The Marvel Cinematic Universe will unquestionably continue to chug along, churning out superhero movie after superhero movie much like its comic book counterpart has done for nearly eight decades now. Marvel knows how to make money and will continue to do so, but that doesn’t mean the current actors we’ve come to recognize primarily as superhuman specimens will keep strapping on the goofy costumes until it’s time to register for their American Association of Retired Persons membership cards.
A crucial element of MCU’s success has been its (fairly) impeccable casting. Robert Downey Jr. was born to play Tony Stark. And while he had a false start as Johnny Storm in two lackluster *Fantastic Four movies (perfectly decent performance; garbage movies), Chris Evans became a household name as Steve Rogers. They and the rest of the Avengers seem truly impossible to recast, but like the comic book characters themselves — or long-running, multi-actor icons like James Bond — Marvel’s primary heroes/money machines will likely endure across generations and in multiple iterations.
Since Marvel won’t have the likes of Downey Jr., Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, and Samuel L. Jackson for too much longer, it might be time to discuss who could fill their super-shoes. Let’s take a look at who we might see as replacements for the O.G. Avengers.
Replace Robert Downey Jr. With: Jon Hamm
The current Tony Stark’s Marvel contract is on a movie-to-movie basis, so Downey Jr. has incredible negotiating power to just keep adding zeroes to his bank account. Marvel has to play ball if they want the face of the MCU to return but if Downey Jr. doubles down and asks for an amount well outside of Marvel’s financial purview (which seems like a classic Downey move), the only actor that could potentially step into his iron suit is the one and only Jon Hamm. Tony Stark is basically a richer weapons-manufacturing Don Draper (which, spoiler alert, is already kind of secret identity) who somehow drinks a few sips more. Hamm is also able to pull off the role of the resolute leader and back it up with a searing, weaponized amount of charm.
Replace Chris Evans With: Anthony Mackie
“I bet by 2017, I’ll be done,” Evans told Variety three years ago, referring to his role as Captain America. Give him one more year and he may keep his word. Evans is under contract for six films, and will reach that number in 2018 if we count the two-part Avengers: Infinity War as one movie. Instead of some pretty boy clone (notZacEfronNotZacEfronNotZacEfron), the logical progression after the events of Civil War would be to do what the comics did and let Mackie’s character, Sam Wilson, AKA The Falcon, take over as Cap. Mackie is a bumbling charmer and could slip into the role while also leaving the door open for Evans’ character to occasionally reappear in a later movie.
Replace Chris Hemsworth With: Jennifer Lawrence
Just like Evans, Hemsworth and his flowing locks are contracted for six films, meaning if he doesn’t want back in after Infinity War he can tell the MCU to shove it. Like the hypothetical Captain America switcheroo that recently happened in the comics, why not bring forward a female Thor? Jennifer Lawrence is probably weary of donning blue makeup as Mystique in the X-Men movies, but she certainly has enough Hollywood clout to be in two Marvel franchises. Granted, Jane Foster is the secret identity of the female Thor in the comics and played by Natalie Portman in the movies, but the details could surely be fudged a bit to allow JLaw to wield Mjolnir!
Replace Mark Ruffalo With: Miles Teller
Ruffalo is the third actor to play the big green guy on-screen and the second in the MCU, which makes him a latecomer to the avenging festivities. He’s contracted for six films and still has four films to go (in two as-yet announced post-Infinity War movies) so we’ll probably have to wait to see a new Hulk. Looking ahead, we think Miles Teller would be a perfect Bruce Banner. His dorky-but-damaged scientist schtick as Reed Richards was probably one of the only things to work in last summer’s Fantastic Flop, so Teller, like Evans, could wait a few years before making a splash in the official MCU.
Replace Scarlett Johansson With: Emily Blunt
Johansson has the same deal as Downey Jr. in that she can pick and choose the remaining length of her Black Widow career. If she decides to stop wearing different red haired wigs as Black Widow, the next femme fatale member of the Avengers should be played by Emily Blunt — that is, if she doesn’t get the gig to play Captain Marvel in 2019 first. Blunt is the type of actress talented enough to do basically anything. Who else could appear in Into the Woods, Edge of Tomorrow, and Sicario and believably pull off that range? It is our belief that Blunt’s hard-edge femininity would also add a nuanced depth to Natasha Romanoff that Johansson hasn’t really been able to pull off thus far.
Replace Jeremy Renner With: Matt Damon
Renner’s contract is an outlier. He’s good for four films, but that guarantee was only good for three Avengers movies and a potential standalone Hawkeye movie. Does anyone really want that? If Renner is indeed done after Infinity War, Matt Damon might make a fantastic Clint Barton. If you’ll remember, Renner briefly replaced Damon in the Jason Bourne franchise before Damon signed up to return for the upcoming fifth installment, so it’s only fair to have Damon replace Renner in his current MCU role. The character’s backstory in Age of Ultron attempted to give Hawkeye a valid purpose within the team unit, but ultimately fell flat; he’s still mostly just “arrow guy.” Like Blunt’s potential Black Widow, Damon is a good enough actor to make you care about a character with minimal effort and god knows he could do wonders for a character as boring as Hawkeye.
Replace Samuel L. Jackson With: Will Smith
The execs at Marvel must love Samuel L. Jackson, as he’s contracted for nine movies. That seems like a lot until you realize he’s already been in seven of them. The good news is he doesn’t have any official appearances as Nick Fury on the docket. Jackson reportedly won’t be in Civil War and there hasn’t been confirmation about him playing a part in Infinity War, which is still a possibility. This gives him one more Marvel movie after which he is ostensibly done. We love Samuel L., but he’s gotta go eventually, and we say give the eyepatch to the Fresh Prince himself, Will Smith. We know, we know: he’s set to appear in DC’s Suicide Squad but the tempting salary and pop culture clout of the House of Ideas may just be what Smith needs if Suicide Squad ends up being the absolute mess the trailers hint it to be. Yeah, we said it.