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"I don't believe in the tiers. I don't believe in A-tier, B-tier, C-tier. It's up to us to make them all A. Because in the comics they are. You have characters that have been around 45-50 years that's an A character. That's an A-franchise and it's our burden to convince the rest of the movie-going public that that's the case."
Kevin Feige, on this trope.
https://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/howard_duck_7523.png
Not even the stain one of Marvel's biggest turkeys can stop Howard the Duck from being part of this universe.
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There are countless examples across all media, practically necessitated by Marvel not having access to their trinity of Spider-Man, X-Men, and Fantastic Four (not initially, anyways). This especially came to prominence later, to the point where fans have no idea what to expect.

Be wary, all spoilers will be unmarked. You Have Been Warned!


Movies

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    Guardians of the Galaxy 

    Avengers: Age of Ultron 
  • Due to their origin as X-Men characters (and Magneto's children, at that!), very few expected to see Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch in the MCU. Quicksilver, in particular, had already appeared in X-Men films by that point. It is thanks to a reworking of their story to be products of HYDRA's experiments that they came into the film, with Scarlet Witch becoming a central character in the Avengers following this film.
  • Ulysses Klaue was a surprise addition, as Black Panther hadn't yet been introduced at that point.
  • Helen Cho (best known as the mother of Amadeus Cho), being a fairly prominent character in the movie.
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    Ant-Man 
  • Ant-Man could be considered only second to the Guardians of the Galaxy in terms of obscurity, as he was a Joke Character and/or a Memetic Loser for his lame power set and it seemed he had been Adapted Out from the Avengers mythology.
  • Going even further, the choice of Ant-Man would likely raise eyebrows. Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man, founding Avenger, and important lynchpin of the Marvel Universe lore, instead appears as a supporting character and mentor to Scott Lang, the second Ant-Man. Though less controversial, Scott Lang was always a minor character who was never intended to headline, and was always much more obscure. For perspective, this isn't unlike opening a Spider-Man movie franchise starring Ben Reilly.
  • Hope van Dyne as the daughter of Hank. Her comic counterpart is as a villain in the Marvel Comics 2 continuity.
  • Darren Cross, who was a Starter Villain that appeared in a single issue before dying, is the Big Bad.
  • Falcon appears late into the film and has a tussle with Ant-Man over a misunderstanding.
  • HYDRA's involvement with Darren Cross, suddenly raising the stakes of the movie dramatically.

    Captain America: Civil War 
  • Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross appearing in the movie, as it had been eight years from his last appearance (and The Incredible Hulk is the Oddball in the Series that rarely even gets referenced), reprised by William Hurt.
  • Spider-Man makes his debut here, after a deal between Marvel and Sony allowed him to appear in the MCU, which many didn't expect to ever happen.

    Doctor Strange 
  • Few were expecting that Mads Mikkelsen would be playing Kaecilius, a servant of Baron Mordo, independently of him (as Mordo has been heavily reworked here).
  • Christine Palmer is an obscure love-interest to Doctor Strange and many thought Rachel McAdams would be playing Clea instead.

    Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 
  • It was known that a new member would join the team. It wasn't thought that the character would be Mantis, who is very obscure even by franchise standards.
  • Few were expecting Star-Lord's father to be Ego the Living Planet, especially since they didn't even initially have the film rights to him at the time and had to work a deal with Fox.
  • Sylvester Stallone's character was a shock. He's playing Starhawk, and his crew is the original Guardians of the Galaxy.

    Spider-Man: Homecoming 
  • The Tinkerer is a minor Spider-Man character at best, so his role as Vulture's sidekick in the film comes across as rather surprising.
  • Likewise, the Shocker's involvement in the movie came across as surprising to nearly everyone, as only one questionable rumor actually mentioned the character by name. Not to mention the fact that he's a C-list villain who was primarily known for having an Atrocious Alias.
  • The return of "Happy" Hogan, especially in a Spider-Man movie of all places, came across as a bit of a surprise.
  • While Ned Leeds is a classic Spider-Man character, this version of him appears to have nothing in common with any prior version of him outside of his name and instead seems to be based almost entirely on Spider-Man's friend Ganke from Ultimate Spider-Man. What makes this so unexpected is that Ganke was the best friend of Miles Morales and never even met the Ultimate universe version of Peter Parker before he died.
  • Steve Rogers/Captain America pops up sometime in the film during a Captain America's Fitness Challenge video for Peter's gym class, which appears to have been recorded some time after the events of The Avengers. On the other hand, some people were guessing he'd make a cameo for this, as Cap has made an appearance in an MCU film every year since The First Avenger was released.
  • Given that Damage Control was intended to be a Marvel television series on ABC, it came to the surprise of many fans that it would be appearing in this movie instead.
  • The official cast list revealed a couple of surprise characters, including a pre-Scorpion Mac Gargan and a pre-Prowler Aaron Davis.
  • Due to being such a new (and initially unpopular) character, many fans weren't expecting Cindy Moon to show up even in such a small role.
  • Pepper Potts' cameo near the end of the movie came out of left field. Even the credits on the Homecoming posters covered her appearance up!
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    Thor: Ragnarok 
  • Nobody expected that Hulk's first full appearance after Avengers: Age of Ultron would be in a Thor movie.
  • Doctor Strange is surprising in the sense that, while having magical abilities puts him more in line with what one would expect from a Thor movie, he wasn't announced to be a part of the cast from the beginning.
  • The Grandmaster was another major surprise due to his tenuous connection to the Thor comics.
  • Korg and Miek as well, which made their Ensemble Dark Horse status even more surprising.
  • Topaz is another example, considering that she originates in The Ultraverse line of comics which are set outside of the mainstream Marvel Universe. However, given that Malibu Comics is owned by Marvel, the company is theoretically free to use her or any other character from that setting.
  • No one expected Thanos's ship to appear in the mid-credits scene.

    Avengers: Infinity War 
  • Given that they're relatively new, were used almost exclusively by a single writer in the comics and are, well, dead, nobody was really expecting the Black Order to appear in anything else ever again. Despite the name change to "the Children of Thanos", they appear in Infinity War.
  • A meta example with casting. While Carrie Coon was a surprising choice for Proxima Midnight, nobody was expecting Michael James Shaw to be revealed to be Corvus Glaive, especially when you consider he's best known for the Constantine TV series and that fans were pegging Peter Dinklage to voice Corvus.
  • Nobody expected Red Skull to show up as the guardian of the Soul Stone, especially since the character hasn't appeared since Phase 1 and had been gone for so long that many fans began to presume that he was dead.
  • More like an unexpected spell, but those well-versed in the comics may be surprised to see Doctor Strange bind Thanos with the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak, given the namesake of the spell is the deity that empowers the Juggernaut, a character Marvel Studios did not have the rights to as of filming. That this version of Strange doesn't engage in Calling Your Attacks like the comics one probably helped.

    Ant-Man and the Wasp 
  • Ghost is an obscure Iron Man villain appearing well after his movies were done, and never antagonized any version of Ant-Man. Here, Ghost appears, albeit gender-flipped and heavily-reworked.
  • Sonny Burch, another Iron Man villain, and ridiculously obscure to the point of not having a Wikipedia page, fills out the Big-Bad Ensemble with Ghost.
  • Jimmy Woo was a surprise, as he has little involvement with Ant-Man.
  • Try Unexpected Actor, but one of the cast members was Laurence Fishburne. Nobody would have imagined Fishburne being part in the MCU due to the fact that he was, at the time of his announcement in Ant-Man and the Wasp, still playing Perry White - Superman's boss at the Daily Planet - in the DC Extended Universe.

    Captain Marvel 
  • Though they always had the rights to the Skrulls, the fact that almost all of the individual members had their rights tied to Fox made it seem impossible to use. They appear and are important to the movie.

    Avengers: Endgame 
  • The return of Harley Keener, the Tagalong Kid from Iron Man 3, was a surprise to most people. Even many fans who'd seen the film didn't recognize him during the funeral sequence since his actor was now a tall, lanky youth in his late teens.
  • Few were expecting Cassie Lang to appear in the movie, or moreover, an older version of her in line with her comic counterpart.
  • While Clint returning in this movie was expected, what wasn't expected was him donning the mantle of Ronin rather than Hawkeye. It was the identity he had in the comics after coming back to life when Civil War was over and his original identity was taken by Kate Bishop. Here, it's to show that he's become a violent vigilante and Death Seeker during the Time Skip after he lost his family in the Downer Beginning.
  • It's safe to say that nobody was expecting Crossbones to return like Frank Grillo revealed. He appears in the past alongside Jasper Sitwell, who is equally unexpected, to retrieve the Chitauri Scepter during the aftermath of the Battle of New York.
  • Given that her role in Doctor Strange's solo movie was relatively self-contained and was killed off midway through, very few people expected The Ancient One to make a reappearance in this film, especially during the events of 2012's Battle of New York.
  • Jane Foster's return took a number of people by surprise, especially since her actress, Natalie Portman, had reportedly been on bad terms with Marvel over disagreements about Thor: The Dark World, which is why the character was previously MIA during Thor: Ragnarok.
    • The Russo Brothers confirmed they used unused footage from The Dark World. However they did have Portman record new dialogue to be heard off-screen. She also attended the movie's premiere and has stated that she is now open to returning in future Marvel projects.note  Marvel allowing more creative freedom for directors and actors in Phase 3 probably has a lot to do with this.
  • Similarly, many people were surprised that Rene Russo not only returned as Frigga, but shared a very important and plot-significant scene with Thor instead of a brief cameo like Jane Foster.
  • James D'Arcy reprises his role as Edwin Jarvis from the Agent Carter series, marking the first time ever that a character from an MCU TV series appears in an MCU film.
  • Robert Redford's return as Alexander Pierce was completely unexpected given his retirement from acting (the reason why he's in the movie is because the scene was filmed before said retirement).
  • The most surprising participant in the Battle of Earth: Howard the Duck, who has a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo with the Ravagers.
  • While Thanos appearing in the movie was of course a given, few could have expected that the main antagonist would end up being a younger, alternate timeline Thanos who takes the place of the version seen in the previous movies.

    Spider-Man: Far From Home 
  • Mysterio wasn't the first choice for the Big Bad when it came to speculations, as he's something of a joke in the comics, he was thought to have had a movie in development by Sony already for their universe, and it looked like Scorpion was being set up with Mac Gargan's cameo in Homecoming instead.
  • Nick Fury and Maria Hill having roles in the movie, after having been Out of Focus since Age of Ultron (the former only finally showing up in a major role in Captain Marvel), was definitely out of the blue. Making this even more unexpected, is that the "Nick Fury" and "Maria Hill" we see throughout the movie aren't even the real versions. Rather, they're Talos and Soren impersonating them in compliance with the two while they're on vacation.
  • No one expected Remy Hii to play Brad Davis, who only dated MJ in one issue all the way back in 1979, and is so obscure that even the most hardcore of Spider-Man fans were likely unaware of him. Marvel and Sony took so long to reveal who exactly Hii plays, that most expected someone more important to Spidey's life, such as Harry Osborn, a new villain, or the forthcoming Shang-Chi.
  • Mr. Dell is another example. He only appeared in three issues and debuted in the late-'90s (long after Peter graduated college, much less high school) in the lesser-known Webspinners anthology comic, and was a very minor character in all three of those appearances.
  • William Ginter Riva, a minor character from Iron Man, makes a return after the most extensive Long Bus Trip done in the Marvel Cinematic Universe up until that point. There's even a short clip of Obadiah Stane yelling at him!
  • On an organization-level, few expected that S.W.O.R.D. would be appearing in the MCU as The Stinger suggests. For one, it's a lesser-known branch of S.H.I.E.L.D. (itself Out of Focus since it was dissolved in The Winter Soldier), dealing with extraterrestrial threats rather than Earth ones. Second, though they technically always had the rights to the organization themselves, S.W.O.R.D. was initially scrapped because almost all of the members (starting with characters such as Abigail Brand, Beast and Lockheed) are considered part of the X-Men side of Marvel (debuting in the Astonishing X-Men) and thus they only just got the film rights before Far From Home's release. The fact that it's being set up carries massive implications for what will happen post-Infinity Saga, but what exactly it is, we don't know.
  • The biggest one of all, said to be on a mind-blowing level: J. Jonah Jameson, reprised by his Spider-Man Trilogy actor J. K. Simmons, in the mid-credits. Not only were many expecting J.J. to be Adapted Out, but the fact that this is only the second time a non-MCU Marvel Studios movie role was reprised in over a decade of MCU movies (after Lou Ferrigno's cameo/voice-over in The Incredible Hulk) only added to the shock.

    Black Widow 
  • Yelena Belova, the other Black Widow appears, even when she seemed to be Adapted Out apart from a Mythology Gag with Natasha looking like her as a blonde in Avengers: Infinity War.
  • The main villain of the movie? Taskmaster. He's always been an Ensemble Dark Horse, but never was he hinted at to appear in the MCU, and he's never been a specific villain for Black Widow.
  • The Red Guardian, which is the Soviet equivalent to Captain America, makes a surprise appearance since he's obscure and fell Out of Focus after the real world fall of the Soviet Union.

    Misc. 

    Future 
  • The most macro example: X-Men and Fantastic Four joining the MCU. Beforehand, it was thought impossible as their film rights were in the hands of 20th Century Fox, a massive conglomerate that had no intention of ever giving up the rights. So Disney's solution was to simply buy Fox for $71.3 billion, even though the Fox-Marvel rights were nowhere near the main reason that Disney bought the company, and were just a small (but convenient) part of it.
  • Kate Bishop is set to debut in the Hawkeye series where she takes up Clint's mantle. Because she's rather recent, the rest of the Young Avengers haven't debuted yet, and many assumed that Clint's daughter Lila Barton would be the MCU's equivalent to Kate Bishop, it was a surprise.
  • No one was expecting a movie about the Eternals, given their obscurity. It makes sense, as their status as being a race of superpowered beings in a hidden city fills the void of the Inhumans after their movie was cancelled.
  • Shang-Chi is another one. He's obscure and was never even mentioned beforehand as a possibility, yet is set to headline his own standalone movie.
    • Equally unexpected: The Mandarin as the Big Bad of Shang-Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings. Not only does the Mandarin have no connections to Shang-Chi in the comics (him being Iron Man's archenemy and all), but many fans thought that the Mandarin was Put on a Bus after Iron Man 3 and All Hail the Kingnote , especially since Iron Man died in Avengers: Endgame. There was also the concern about the Mandarin fighting Iron Man could have perpetuated the Yellow Peril trope, so Marvel Studios resolved this simply by having him fight their first Asian lead. The best part? This Mandarin will not be the Trevor Slattery version, but the real Mandarin.
  • Blade. Outside of small whispers that were made sporadically, few expected he would headline a movie. It was thought that his Darker and Edgier nature and his deal with the supernatural, specifically the element that is the vampires, would keep him away from the MCU. This only made it all the more surprising when their SDCC 2019 presentation closed on the Blade announcement, indicating they were very aware of this.

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