The 10-Year Evolution of Women in the MCU

As The Wasp becomes Marvel's first female title superhero, we look back at the CEOs and scientists, soldiers and spies, who helped her set flight.

by | July 5, 2018 | Comments

Ant-Man and the Wasp hits theaters this weekend, marking the first Marvel Cinematic Universe film to feature a female superhero in its title. That would be Evangeline Lilly as the titular winged fighter, the Wasp. Next up for Marvel is Brie Larson in Captain Marvel, another milestone: Carol Danvers will be the first solo female title character in the MCU, while the film will mark the first time a female director has helmed an MCU movie. It won’t be the last: Kevin Feige has said that Captain Marvel co-director Anna Boden will be the first of many female directors to tell stories in the MCU.

The place for female characters in the MCU has evolved over its 10-year, 20-film history, and Ant-Man and the Wasp seems to be a tipping point – the kick-off of a new, if not officially sanctioned, phase. As we enter this new world, or realm, let’s take a look some of the awesome female MCU characters who have brought us to this point, and celebrate their best badass moments.

Virginia “Pepper” Potts (2008)

Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts
(Photo by @ Paramount)

First introduced: Iron Man

Robert Downey Jr. has rightly dubbed Pepper the First Lady of the MCU. If RDJ set the tone for superheroes in the MCU, then Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper set the tone for the ladies. Not just a glorified secretary, Pepper’s greatest asset is that she seems to be the only character who can put Tony in his place. As the CEO of Stark Industries and Tony’s love, Potts has shown herself time and time again to be more than just a damsel in distress.

Most badass moment: Pepper blows the main Arc Reactor helping Tony defeat Obadiah Stane.

Natalia Alianovna “Natasha” Romanoff, a.k.a. Black Widow (2010) 

Scarlett Johansson
(Photo by © Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

First introduced: Iron Man 2

A full-length Black Widow movie feels long overdue, and thankfully, both Kevin Feige and Scarlett Johansson have suggested it’s well in the works (and likely with a female director). Earlier this year, Marvel tapped Screenwriter Jac Schaeffer to pen a script for the project. Whether it’s a Red Sparrow-style origin story or James Bond-style spy thriller focused on her pre-Avengers days – or both – we are all here for more of her thigh-crushing adventures.

Most badass moment: Natasha’s hallway fight in Iron Man 2 is a prime candidate, but her best moment came when she took down four Russian goons while handcuffed to a chair in The Avengers.

Dr. Jane Foster (2011)

Natalie Portman in Thor
(Photo by © Paramount)

First Appearance: Thor

Okay, Jane might make googly eyes at Thor one too many times, but she might also be the brainiest person in the MCU: A brilliant astrophysicist and one of the world’s foremost astronomers, who stumbles upon Thor after he was banished to Earth. She eventually travels to Asgard in Thor: The Dark World, where she gets all dark and broody, but in recent films, it has been suggested that Thor and Jane have broken up. When Thor 3 was announced, Portman said she was “done” with the franchise, but there is hope yet for fans of the doc: The actor more recently said she hasn’t ruled out the chance we may see Jane Foster again.

Best Badass Moment: Punching Loki for New York in Thor: The Dark World.

Lady Sif (2011)

Jaimie Alexander as Lady Sif in Thor
(Photo by © Paramount)

First Appearance: Thor

Who proved wrong all those who scoffed at the idea of a young maiden becoming one of the fiercest warriors Asgard has ever known? This Lady. Quickly after her introduction in Thor, we learn that her path to becoming a fierce companion and fighter alongside Thor and the Warriors Three (Fandral, Hogun, Volstagg) was not an easy one. Intensely loyal to Thor and to Asgard, she is never one to shrink from a fight (heck, she leans into them – hard). Jaimie Alexander had scheduling conflicts that prevented her from reprising her role in Thor Ragnarok, but she hasn’t ruled out future appearances in the MCU.

Best badass moment: Upon freeing Loki to enlist his help in Thor: The Dark World, she quickly places a sword to his neck and assures him that if he even thinks of betraying Thor, she’ll kill him.

Margaret Elizabeth “Peggy” Carter (2011)

Hayley Atwell as Agent Carter
(Photo by © Marvel Studios)

First Appearance: Captain America: The First Avenger 

Due to Steve Rogers’ time jump, the only significant time we’ve spent with Carter at her prime on the big screen is in Cap’s first movie. (Luckily TV’s criminally underrated Agent Carter gave fans more time with their favorite British spy.) Peggy (Hayley Atwell) was a Strategic Scientific Reserve (SSR) officer during and after World War II and one of the founders of S.H.I.E.L.D. If the Avengers manage to get the time stone back from Thanos, maybe Steve and Peggy will finally get that date.

Best Badass Moment: Putting a recruit in his place – knocked back on the floor – when he dared impugn her abilities in Captain America: The First Avenger.

Agent Maria Hill (2012)

Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill
(Photo by Zade Rosenthal/©Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

First Appearance: Marvel’s The Avengers

When Maria Hill – former Deputy Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. before its infiltration by H.Y.D.R.A. – first appeared in the MCU, it seemed she would play a small role alongside Agent Colson and Nick Fury. But with every appearance, Hill (Cobie Smulders) has become more vital to the MCU landscape. By the end of Infinity War, it becomes clear that she and Nick Fury are intrinsically linked to the culminating events of the Marvel epic.

Best Badass Moment: During Avengers: Age of Ultron, Maria never let her human limitations keep her out of the fight. She redirected the Helicarrier to take down Ultron’s sentinels – without her quick thinking, who knows if the Avengers would have prevailed?

Gamora (2014)

Zoe Saldana as Gamora
(Photo by ©Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

First Introduction: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1

Zoe Saldana was one of the first lead female characters in the MCU to bristle against her love interest. Ruthless, calculating, and one of the most skilled fighters on screen, she’s not just another token strong female character – she’s the don’t-eff-with-me warrior we once voted Most Likely to Take Down the Mad Titan. Even in the first Guardians of the Galaxy, we learn much of Gamora’s complex motivations – none of which have anything to do with pleasing the obviously infatuated Peter Quill.

Best badass moment: Gomara’s fight with Nebula in Guardians Vol. 2 is the stuff of legend.

Nebula (2014)

Karen Gillan as Nebula
(Photo by ©Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

First Introduction: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1

Karen Gillan was nigh unrecognizable as Nebula in Guardians. Disguising her voice and transforming into a blue skinned android, her Nebula was a terrifying villain who would go on to become an ally by Infinity War. Though not yet completely reconciled with her adopted sister, Gamora, Nebula matches her pound-for-pound with her hatred for Thanos and her commitment to seeing him destroyed.

Best Badass Moment: As mutinous Ravagers squabble, Neblua blasts Yondu’s fin and essentially takes control from the mutineers.

Wanda Maximoff, a.k.a. Scarlet Witch (2014)

Scarlet Witch, Captain America: Civil War
(Photo by ©Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

First Appearance: Captain America: The Winter Solider (post credits)

The Sokovia Accords, which kickstarted the conflict in Captain America: Civil War, are largely a result of Scarlet Witch’s unmatched powers. She is arguably the strongest member of the Avengers, capable of mind control, telekinesis, Psionic Energy Manipulation – or, put more simply, as Maria Hill once said in summarizing her abilities: “she’s weird.” In truth, there is not a lot that Wanda can’t do, including destroy an Infinity Stone. That power in particular will likely play a pivotal role in the upcoming, as yet untitled, fourth Avengers film.

Badass moment: Badassness meets heartbreak when Wanda sets her feelings aside to destroy the Mind Stone embedded in Vision’s head. Fighting back tears, she makes a heroic calculation: No matter how much she loves Vision, she knows she has to do this to save the universe. Well, for a time anyway.

Hope van Dyne, a.k.a. The Wasp (2015)

Evangeline Lilly in Ant-Man and the Wasp
(Photo by ©Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

First Appearance: Ant-Man 

Hope is the daughter of Hank Pym and Janet van Dyne, and a scientist and board member at Pym Technologies. Though we didn’t get to see her suit up in the first Ant-Man, we did get a sense of her strength and smarts as she was training Scott Lang. Rest assured, she is very much in the driver’s seat in the sequel, sporting some enviably advanced tech and kicking enviable amounts of a–.

Best Badass Moment: Watching Hope kicking Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang throughout that Ant-Man training montage was pure joy.

Valkyrie (2017)

Tessa Thompson in Thor: Ragnarok
(Photo by ©Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

First Appearance: Thor: Ragnarok

Drunken, brazen, and giving about zero f—ks in any situation, Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie is unlike any female character we have seen in the MCU. Though clearly drowning her troubles as she tries to escape the past, Valkyrie remains strong enough to be the only woman – or person, or beast – to truly put Thor in his place. This antagonist-turned-ally also steers clear of any love-interest tropes, and though there maybe romance for Thor and Valkyrie in the future, for now they are simply respectful, booze-loving buds.

Best Badass Moment: Capturing Thor while barely breaking a sweat. Is this your God?

Shuri (2018)

Letitia Wright as Shuri
(Photo by ©Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

First Appearance: Black Panther

This new favorite Disney Princess is capable of witty sibling slurs and genius moves in a lab – in fact, she’s one of the best minds in the MCU, with her vibranium-based technology far surpassing Stark’s work. Played by a show-stealing Letitia Wright, Shuri is just one of several names on our list that many are hoping will have their own solo project.

Best Badass Moment: Tricking her bother T’Challa into demonstrating the power of her new kinetic energy tech – and knocking him off his feet in the process.

Okoye (2018)

Danai Gurira in Black Panther
(Photo by ©Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

First Appearance: Black Panther

General of the Dora Milaje and head of Wakanda’s armed forces, Okoye fought loyally alongside T’Challa in the events of Infinity War and Black Panther. In both films, she dazzled audiences with her graceful and deadly fighting style – and that tough, secret-sharing stare, courtesy of actor Danai Gurira. Loyal to Wakanda and the throne above all other things, Okoye has shown she is as principled as she is powerful, even when it goes against her own wishes.

Best Badass Moment: During Black Panther’s casino fight, an undercover Okoye throws her wig at a henchman. Cue applause.

Nakia (2018)

Lupita Nyong'o in Black Panther
(Photo by Matt Kennedy /© Marvel / © Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

First Appearance: Black Panther

Both Nakia and Killmonger saw the suffering of the world and longed for Wakanda to take a larger role in fighting injustice; where Killmonger sought for domination and destruction, Nakia, played by Lupita Nyong’o, urged to the king provide aid and access to technology. She showed true strength and empathy throughout the movie, and in the end showed she was just as capable an a—kicker as any of the Dora Milaje.

Best Badass Moment: Nakia shows she has skills behind the wheel in Black Panther’s epic Busan car chase.

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