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Star Trek Is More Connected To The MCU Than We Ever Realized

The Marvel Cinematic Universe may be the biggest franchise ever created, generating dozens of feature films and TV shows in just over 14 years. But before such franchises were the norm in Hollywood, there was one little TV show that fascinated and enraptured audiences: the iconic sci-fi series "Star Trek," launched in 1966. It got bigger in the 1970s in reruns, leading to a short-lived children's animated series, and then a string of big budget feature films and eventually new TV series throughout the '80s and '90s.

Beginning with "Star Trek: The Next Generation," the franchise became a true multimedia universe long before the MCU, with TV shows and movies, plus tie-in comic books, novels, and even video games. When the MCU landed in 2008 with "Iron Man," the "Star Trek" franchise had hit a pause, following the cancellation of "Star Trek: Enterprise" a few years earlier. But with Marvel's unparalleled success it wasn't long before more "Trek" movies, and eventually TV shows, came back, once again going "where no one had gone before."

MCU architect Kevin Feige has acknowledged that his creation has taken plenty of inspiration from "Star Trek." But the two mega-franchises have more in common than just being massive, interwoven screen universes. The two even share a number of actors who've passed through both their doors. From Benedict Cumberbatch down, here's a list of actors who have crossed from the Final Frontier to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Benedict Cumberbatch

Rising to superstardom after playing the title role in the hit BBC series "Sherlock," actor Benedict Cumberbatch found himself Hollywood's latest "it" boy, and nobody knew what major movie role he might snag next. Rumors swirled that he was cast in the first new "Star Wars" film, but it was the "Star Trek" franchise he ended up joining in 2014. Cast as the lead villain in the J.J. Abrams sequel "Star Trek Into Darkness," producers tried desperately to keep a lid on who his character was, but eagle-eyed fans figured it out long before it hit theaters. In a quasi-remake of "Star Trek II," Cumberbatch played the role of franchise favorite villain Khan, a centuries-old global tyrant who is awoken from stasis and forced to develop weapons for a rogue faction of Starfleet Intelligence.

Not long after "Star Trek: Into Darkness" had hit theaters, the actor closed a deal to play Marvel's Sorcerer Supreme, Doctor Strange, in the 2016 film of the same name. The studio need an actor with gravitas and stature to play the Master Of The Mystic Arts, someone who could believably stand toe-to-toe with Marvel stars Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, and Chris Evans. As part of the deal, Cumberbatch also appeared alongside the Avengers in "Thor: Ragnarok," "Avengers: Infinity War," and "Avengers: Endgame." He then showed up in "Spider-Man: No Way Home" before his own sequel, "Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness," arrived in 2022. 

Neal McDonough

Well-known and widely recognized character actor Neal McDonough rarely gets the juicy lead role, but often plays major supporting characters (and sometimes even villains), as he did in both the MCU and "Star Trek." His first of the two was in the 1996 film "Star Trek: First Contact," the second film to feature the cast of "Star Trek: The Next Generation." Joining Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise, McDonough played Lt. Hawk, the new ship's navigator. A loyal and steady officer, he helped defend the ship from a Borg invasion, and joined Picard and Worf in a space walk on the outside of the ship in the film's most innovative set piece. Unfortunately, Hawk didn't make it to the end of the story, and was assimilated into a Borg drone, turning on his former captain.

Flash forward 15 years and McDonough took on his Marvel role in the first "Captain America" film, "Captain America: The First Avenger," in 2011. There he played the leader of the Howling Commandos, Dum Dum Dugan, the bowler hat-wearing ruffian who accompanies Captain America on his missions behind enemy lines during World War II. We didn't get to see much more of him in the MCU, though he did surprise fans by making an appearance on the "Captain America" spin-off series, "Agent Carter."

Faran Tahir

Actor Faran Tahir's first film work was actually in the Disney live-action film "The Jungle Book" in 1994, where he played Nathoo. A series of small parts followed, mostly on television, including recurring roles on hit shows like "24," "The West Wing" and "Jag," before he appeared in his first blockbuster action film, the 2008 MCU debut "Iron Man." There he played Raza, a leading member of the infamous Ten Rings terrorist organization that kidnaps billionaire inventor Tony Stark and forces him to build a weapon. Of course, Stark turns the tables on him, but it's Raza who finds the plans to his first Iron Man suit and gets them into the hands of Obadiah Stane, Stark's mentor turned rival.

Just a year later, Tahir snagged a smaller but perhaps more critical role in the 2009 reboot of "Star Trek" from director J.J. Abrams. Tahir played Captain Robau, commanding the starship Kelvin, in the film's extended opening sequence, when a Romulan mining ship arrives through a massive hole in space. In an attempt to buy time for his crew to escape, Robau goes aboard the enemy vessel as they request, and is promptly killed by the Romulan leader Nero.

Idris Elba

A major TV star before he came to the attention of Marvel or "Star Trek" fans, British actor Idris Elba turned heads for his performance as educated thug Stringer Bell in the HBO series "The Wire." He went on to play the eponymous "Luther" in the critically acclaimed British crime drama, as well as a recurring role in "The Office." He joined the ranks of the MCU in 2011, starring as the Asgardian Heimdall in the first "Thor" film. Guardian of the Rainbow Bridge, he plays a key role ferrying Thor back and forth to Midgard, ultimately being defeated by Loki after allying himself with Thor. Elba would return to the role in both sequels, as well as a brief sequence in the opening moments of "Avengers: Infinity War."

After Benedict Cumberbatch played the villain in "Star Trek Into Darkness," it was Elba's turn to star as the franchise's next antagonist in the 2016 threequel "Star Trek: Beyond." Under heavy makeup, Elba plays Krall, an apparently alien enemy and would-be tyrant who harbors a vendetta against the Federation. Eventually however, Captain Kirk discovers that Krall is no alien, but a former Starfleet captain named Balthazar Edison, a one-time war hero from nearly a century ago who was marooned on an desolate world and has used alien technology to stay alive.

Alice Krige

Despite a long list of credits to her name, actress Alice Krige may be best known as the character she played in "Star Trek." Though her career long pre-dates her first appearance in the sci-fi franchise, she made her mark in the 1996 film "Star Trek: First Contact" when she took on the role of the sinister Borg Queen. A new character invented for the film, Krige imbued the queen with a devious, alluring quality that set the tone for all who came after. On "Star Trek: Voyager," she did not initially reprise the role due to scheduling conflicts and was replaced briefly by Susanna Thompson, but stepped back into the queen's rubber suit for the series finale "Endgame." Though a new actress played the queen in "Star Trek: Picard," Krige returned to voice the character in a 2021 episode of "Star Trek: Lower Decks."

In 2013 Krige joined the ranks of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the sequel "Thor: The Dark World." There she played a small but important role as Asgardian physician Eir. When Jane Foster becomes possessed by the power of the Aether, otherwise known as the Reality Stone, she's brought to Asgard and put under Eir's care. There's even some playful banter between Foster and Eir, as the human scientist attempts to explain Asgardian magic by comparing Eir's "Soul Forge" to a quantum field generator.

Chris Hemsworth

Though today he's an A-list Hollywood talent, actor Chris Hemsworth was anything but that in 2009, then just a little known Australian soap opera star. But he landed the role of George Kirk in that year's big budget reboot of "Star Trek," appearing in the opening as Captain Robau's first officer aboard the USS Kelvin when it encounters Nero on his quest for vengeance. When Robau is killed, Kirk takes command and evacuates the ship, leaving him the last man on board. In a heartbreaking final moment, Kirk goes down with the ship, setting a collision course with the Romulan vessel and telling his departing wife he loves her just as she gives birth to their son, James T. Kirk.

Just days after J.J. Abrams' "Star Trek" had hit theaters in May of 2009, reports announced that the Australian actor had secured the much-coveted title role in "Thor," Marvel's newest and most ambitious motion picture. After he bulked up and put on his Asgardian armor, Hemsworth impressed audiences across three of his own "Thor" films and three further "Avengers" movies. Following "Avengers: Endgame," Hemsworth would return in "Thor: Love And Thunder," becoming the only MCU star so far to get a fourth solo film.

Patrick Stewart

Little-known British actor Patrick Stewart had few major starring roles on his resume when he was cast as the new captain of the starship Enterprise in 1987 for the franchise's first spin-off, "Star Trek: The Next Generation." Despite a rocky first year, the show blossomed, and with the gravitas of Stewart anchoring the series it became a major hit and managed the unthinkable: supplanting the original "Star Trek" series as the favorite of fans. Stewart starred as Picard in all seven seasons of the show and four feature films, making a surprise return to the role in 2020 for the streaming series "Star Trek: Picard." All told, he'll have played the character for more than 35 years when the third season of the series finally wraps.

In 2000, Stewart took the role of Professor Charles Xavier in Fox's groundbreaking "X-Men," a movie that sparked a boom in comic book adventures on the big screen that continues to this day. Stewart played Professor X in several sequels, including the 2014 time travel adventure "X-Men: Days Of Future Past." But he finally played the role in the MCU, following Fox's merger with Disney, when he was imported into the sequel "Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness," appearing alongside fellow "Trek" alums Benedict Cumberbatch and Anson Mount.

Karl Urban

Karl Urban has appeared in a number of genre roles, most notably as Eomer in "The Lord Of The Rings" trilogy and as the title character in 2012's "Dredd" from filmmakers Pete Travis and Alex Garland. But his biggest came in 2009 when he took on the iconic role of Leonard "Bones" McCoy in the "Star Trek" reboot film and its sequels, taking over for original series star DeForest Kelley. As the irascible, grumpy ship's surgeon, Urban was perhaps the most impeccably cast of the crew, totally believable as a younger version of the Enterprise's famous doctor.

A year after Urban appeared as McCoy for a third time in "Star Trek Beyond," he helped fill out the MCU's third "Thor" film, "Thor: Ragnarok," from visionary director Taika Waititi. Urban plays an Asgardian warrior named Skurge who allies himself with the demonic Hela out of sheer self-preservation. Eventually however, when he realizes that his new master's plan to take over Asgard means becoming her executioner and killing many of his brethren, he has a change of heart, and joins Thor and Loki in battling Hela's army.

F. Murray Abraham

One of the most recent additions to this list, F. Murray Abraham is an Academy Award-winning actor with a long list of credits in Hollywood. They include the role of Salieri in "Amadeus," and parts in critically acclaimed films like "Scarface," "Finding Forrester," and "The Grand Budapest Hotel." But he's never been above doing comedies, science fiction, or comic book projects either, and in 1998 played the villain in the third "Next Generation" film, "Star Trek: Insurrection." Murray appears as the twisted Ru'afo, determined to steal energy from the planet Ba'Ku which acts as a near-magical fountain of youth. But to do so may mean the forced relocation of an entire pre-industrial society, putting him in direct conflict with the morals of Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise.

More than 20 years later, Abraham made his MCU debut in the Disney+ series "Moon Knight." Though he wouldn't show up on screen, he provides the unmistakable and haunting voice of Khonshu, the Egyptian god who recruits the mercenary Marc Spector to become his human avatar on Earth. A similarly twisted but more heroic character, Khonshu fights for justice with a ruthlessness that matches Ru'afo's diabolical evil. Acting as a guide for the struggling multiple personalities inside Spector, Khonshu isn't afraid of getting his hands dirty too, battling his rival, the goddess Ammit, in the finale.

Alan Dale

Though he'd only appear in a pair of small roles in both the MCU and the "Star Trek" franchise, English actor Alan Dale should be well known to most of our readers. For several seasons, across some 17 episodes, Dale starred as the shadowy villain Charles Widmore on the hit ABC series "Lost." Dale also played a villain in the final "Next Generation film, "Star Trek: Nemesis." In the opening of the film, the actor plays the Romulan Praetor Hiren, leader of the Romulan Star Empire, who is killed in a mass slaughter of the entire Senate perpetrated by the would-be tyrant known as Shinzon (played by Tom Hardy). Oddly enough, as a member of the cast of "Dynasty," Dale appeared recently in an episode where his character Anders dressed as Captain Picard

More than a decade after his appearance in "Star Trek" though, Dale became part of the MCU when he joined the cast of the action thriller "Captain America: The Winter Soldier." In that film Dale plays Douglas Rockwell, a member of the World Security Council that oversees SHIELD when Alexander Pierce attempts to take over the world through the launch of three deadly helicarriers. Rockwell is killed, along with the rest of the council, in Pierce's final murderous act as Nick Fury and Black Widow release his classified files to the public.

Zoe Saldana

Though she came to fame through her role in the biggest movie of all time, James Cameron's "Avatar," actress Zoe Saldana actually starred in the "Star Trek" franchise first. Months before she played a Na'vi on the world of Pandora, she took on the role of Nyota Uhura in J.J. Abrams' 2009 reboot of the "Trek" franchise. Taking over the role from original actress Nichelle Nichols, Saldana's version of Uhura was younger, livelier, and in love with science officer Mr. Spock, now played by Zachary Quinto. Saldana returned for the two sequels, ending her relationship with the ship's resident Vulcan in between the second and third movies. 

Five years after starring in "Star Trek," Saldana joined her third major science fiction franchise, swapping the blue makeup of "Avatar" for green in the 2014 MCU entry, "Guardians Of The Galaxy." Starting out as a deadly alien assassin at odds with the movie's hero, she soon sets out to forge her own path from under the shadow of her tyrant father Thanos, joining Peter Quill, Drax, Rocket, and Groot to form a new cosmic superhero team. Saldana would play the role again in the sequel, as well as "Avengers: Infinity War" and "Avengers: Endgame," where she fought against her father and died so that he could obtain one of the final Infinity Stones. She's due to return for a third "Guardians Of The Galaxy," as well as a Christmas Special on Disney+, playing a multiverse variant of her former character.

Kurtwood Smith

Sitcom star Kurtwood Smith had his biggest role throughout the late 1990s and 2000s in the TV comedy "That '70s Show." There he played family patriarch Red Forman, a stern, old-fashioned father to series star Topher Grace ("Spider-Man 3") as awkward teen Eric Forman. Decades later, Smith landed a recurring role on the MCU spin-off series "Agent Carter." Smith took the role of Vernon Masters, a sinister government agent and former War Department veteran who clashed with Peggy Carter during the 1950s in the show's second season, appearing in a total of six episodes of the ABC series.

A year before Smith started his 10-season run on "That '70s Show," he starred in the "Star Trek: Voyager" two-part adventure "Year Of Hell." In that episode he played the villain Annorax, whose temporal weapon can erase people, ships and even entire planets from the timeline. Annorax attempts to wipe out Voyager, believing the ship's existence is impeding his mission to restore his people's empire to power. But Annorax wasn't Smith's only role in "Star Trek." In 1991 he played the President of the United Federation of Planets in "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country," the final film to star the cast of the original series, and he also showed up as the Cardassian security officer Thrax in the "Deep Space Nine" Season 5 episode "Things Past."

Anson Mount

It's only fairly recently that actor Anson Mount debuted in both the MCU and "Star Trek," joining the cast of "Star Trek: Discovery" in 2018. There he was added to the series as Captain Pike, a legendary "Trek" captain that audiences had seen only once before, way back in the 1960s. Proving popular with fans, his "Star Trek" stint didn't come to an end when he watched the USS Discovery travel forward in time nearly 1,000 years; instead, he was given his own spin-off series, "Star Trek: Strange New Worlds," in 2022. Mount stars alongside Ethan Peck as Mr. Spock and Rebecca Romijn as his first officer, "Number One," as the series chronicles the early days of the starship Enterprise.

A year before "Discovery," the "Hell On Wheels" veteran starred as the superhero king called Black Bolt in the short-lived and much-maligned ABC series "Inhumans." Mount was acknowledged as a high point of the series, which was cancelled after just one season. Thankfully, Marvel would give him another shot at the role, bringing him into the MCU for "Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness" as a variant of Black Bolt from another reality. Though he doesn't survive the film, we're hoping Marvel brings him back for a proper reboot of the Inhumans. Interestingly, his appearance in the "Doctor Strange" sequel alongside Patrick Stewart means that there are two Enterprise captains on the multiverse council known as The Illuminati. Perhaps they should have cast Chris Pine as Reed Richards to round out the group.

William Sadler

Character actor William Sadler might be most recognized for his role as Heywood, the sarcastic inmate and friend to Red and Andy in "The Shawshank Redemption." But he also played two important roles in the MCU and "Star Trek," the first coming in the '90s spinoff "Deep Space Nine." Beginning with the Season 6 episode "Inquisition," Sadler played the mysterious Starfleet intelligence officer Luther Sloan, investigating Dr. Bashir for potentially being a Dominion double agent. But it's revealed at the close of the episode that he's actually an operative of Section 31, a rogue Starfleet secret service that seems to operate outside the law. Sadler returned twice as Sloan, before his character's apparent death in "Extreme Measures," but Section 31 has lived on in the franchise, playing a role in both "Star Trek Into Darkness" and "Star Trek: Discovery."

In the 2013 Marvel threequel "Iron Man 3," Sadler portrayed the President Of The United States. It's Sadler's President Ellis that authorizes the Iron Patriot project — in which James Rhodes suits up in red, white, and blue Iron Man armor — before becoming the target of assassination by Aldrich Killian. Attacked while aboard Air Force One, it takes both Iron Man and Iron Patriot teaming up to save him. Sadler would play Ellis again in a recurring role in "Agents of SHIELD," where he coordinates a government response to the rise in Inhuman activity.

Alfre Woodard

As prestigious an actor as you'll find on this list, Alfre Woodard has been in popular television series and hit movies since the early '80s. She has appeared in some of the most critically acclaimed shows on TV, and has been nominated for a Prime Time Emmy Award for roles in an astonishing 17 different series — never once for the same role — winning four times for her parts in "The Practice," "Miss Evers' Boys," "L.A. Law," and "Hill Street Blues." She joined "Star Trek" in 1996, playing the stubborn, defiant 21st-century assistant to inventor Zefram Cochrane in the film "Star Trek: First Contact." In the movie she fiercely defends her ship from what she believes are military invaders, only to be brought into outer space and introduced to the Enterprise, eventually proving valuable counsel to Captain Picard.

Although she played a major role as the villainous Black Mariah in the Netflix series "Luke Cage" — a part that would earn her acclaim from fans — we're only counting her official MCU appearance in "Captain America: Civil War" for the purposes of this list. There she played the mother of a slain young man, killed in the Battle of Sokovia during the events of "Avengers: Age Of Ultron." It's her damning words to Tony Stark that make him think twice about their responsibility as heroes, making him change his mind on the Sokovia Accords and kicking off the movie's conflict by putting him at odds with Steve Rogers.

Michelle Yeoh

Renowned in Hong Kong before her career ever came to America, Michelle Yeoh hit Hollywood in the '90s with the James Bond thriller "Tomorrow Never Dies" and continued with a string of major movies like "Memoirs Of A Geisha" and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." Over the past half-decade or so, it seems the actress has become one of the busiest and most sought-after talents around, appearing in a number of big hit shows and movies that includes roles in "Star Trek" and the MCU.

In "Star Trek: Discovery," she began playing Philippa Georgiou, one of Starfleet's most decorated captains in the 23rd century, before swapping out roles to play her own Mirror Universe counterpart. Departing for parts unknown in the show's third season, producers have been trying to get Yeoh to star in her own "Trek" series, but her availability has so far made that difficult.

Meanwhile, she's actually played two roles in the MCU, the first being a minor appearance as Aleta Ogord in "Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2" during a single scene at the end of the film. She played a bigger, central role in the 2021 film "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" as Ying Nan, the aunt of the film's title hero, played by Simu Liu.