Back in the late 90s, Kurt Busiek and Mark Bagley had quite a surprise in store for Marvel Comics readers when they introduced a new team of heroes to fill the void after the disappearance of the Avengers and Fantastic Four during Marvel’s big “Onslaught” storyline. Debuting in Incredible Hulk #449, the Thunderbolts burst onto the scene to calm a rampaging Hulk.
Both readers and denizens of the Marvel U presumed only good things from this new squad, that is until the very end of the first issue of the Thunderbolts comic, which revealed that each of the members was actually a previously established Marvel villain! As it turned out, Baron Zemo had ingeniously hidden his Masters of Evil team in plain sight, attempting to gain power through insidious means. From there, the Thunderbolts concept grew and changed a number of times through the years, though often focusing on the idea of whether supervillains could truly cross over from the wrong side of the tracks.
The group was initially an independent way for villains to go straight — whether as a ruse or for real, depending on the specific members — but it has been co-opted by the government on more than one occasion. No matter the reason behind a new Thunderbolts team’s formation, though, it typically revolves around baddies trying to become superheroes, whether to truly redeem themselves or to further their own schemes.
After years of speculation, the Thunderbolts concept is now being adapted for the big screen, with Deadline reporting Marvel Studios is working on a Thunderbolts feature film from writer Eric Pearson and director Jake Schreier. At this point, we’ve met many characters in the MCU (and sometimes outside the MCU) who have ties to the Thunderbolts in the comics.
As we wait to see who makes it into the movie, here are a few candidates for the team’s live-action membership…
The man who came up with the entire Thunderbolts concept in the comics, Helmut Zemo made his big screen debut in Captain America: Civil War. Given a more sympathetic backstory than his comic book counterpart, the MCU Zemo’s family was killed during the Avengers’ fight with Ultron in Sokovia, which inspired him to destroy the team by driving a wedge between Captain America and Iron Man. Zemo’s return in The Falcon and The Winter Soldier proved he still had an innate distrust of superheroes (along with introducing his dancing skills), so now that he has his comic book-inspired mask, could this all be setting the stage for Zemo to become a more overt costumed nemesis and eventually form the Thunderbolts? Or, perhaps, at least lead the team with some involvement from Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, who has notably been recruiting some of the folks below on this list? For any of that to happen though, he’ll need to get free from the Dora Milaje…
In the comics, Hawkeye eventually got fed up with the Avengers and took over as the Thunderbolts’ leader after they separated from Zemo. Having his own history with being labeled a villain, the archer grew to support his new team and looked to inspire them, much like Captain America had done for the Avengers. Played by Jeremy Renner, Clint Barton’s been a part of the MCU since his first appearance in Thor and is still active these days (despite his failed attempts at retirement), most recently in his own recent Disney+ Hawkeye series, where he teamed up with and mentored Kate Bishop, all of which means he could offer some experience to a Thunderbolts team. While never quite the supervillain he first was in the comics, Clint’s time as the murderous vigilante called Ronin — something his show explored further — could still be used to fuel his connection to others trying to make up for past sins.
Following Yelena Belova‘s well-received introduction in the Black Widow film and subsequent role in Hawkeye, fans are curious where we might next see the character. In both the comic books and onscreen, Yelena is another product of the Red Room, and in the comics, she appeared to join the Thunderbolts during the time when Norman Osborn used a group of villains as his personal tools of vengeance and destruction. As it turned out, this “Yelena” was actually Natasha in disguise. But with the MCU Natasha no longer in the picture after Avengers: Endgame, we could see Yelena sneaking in to fill any and all super-spy needs — and perhaps a genuine role on a Thunderbolts team. Yelena’s taking jobs as an assassin for Valentina certainly has many pondering how that could be a stepping stone to teaming up with others Valentina is gathering.
A new Ant-Man came into the picture in Marvel Comics in 2006 when S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Eric O’Grady stole one of the Ant-Man suits and used it for problematic purposes. Always looking out only for himself, he survived the Skrull invasion and parlayed that into a spot on Osborn’s Thunderbolts. His ability to shrink made him perfect for plenty of black ops missions. We already know that Hank Pym’s suits exist in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so maybe a bum like O’Grady could get his hands on one — or something could happen to the MCU’s Ant-Man, Scott Lang, who has his own criminal history, to send him down the path towards Thunderbolts membership.
Another member of Norman Osborn’s Thunderbolts in the comics, Mac Gargan — once the Spider-Man enemy called Scorpion, but at the time possessing the Venom symbiote — also became a part of Osborn’s “Dark Avengers.” He went on missions as the barely-in-control Venom, but also became a twisted version of Spider-Man for a time. In the MCU, Gargan appeared in Spider-Man: Homecoming as a criminal looking to buy alien tech from the Vulture, Adrian Toomes. He was captured by the Wall-Crawler — suffering injuries in the process — and locked up alongside Toomes. While Toomes would eventually make his way into another universe altogether in Morbius, Gargan hasn’t been seen since Homecoming. If he eventually gets a Scorpion suit, the MCU Gargan could parlay his skills and contacts into a T-Bolts gig.
There’s a pretty big difference between the comic book and movie versions of Ghost. The former’s an unnamed, unhinged anti-establishment thief who can phase through anything and is intent on destroying corporations — especially those owned by Tony Stark — who eventually joined Osborn’s Thunderbolts team. The latter is a young woman who went somewhat mad after one of her father’s experiments went wrong and she became non-corporeal, tangling with the two title heroes in Ant-Man and the Wasp. However, with Ghost receiving help from Janet Van Dyne and making peace with Ant-Man and the Wasp by the end of the film, she might be looking to make up for some of her crimes. And maybe there’s a team that could seemingly give her a way to do so…
In the comics, Bucky Barnes once put together a new team of Thunderbolts to keep Kobik — a living Cosmic Cube with astonishing reality-warping abilities — safe and uncompromised. Still dealing with the knowledge of all the terrible things he did while under Russian control, the Winter Soldier did his best to keep teammates Atlas, Fixer, Mach-X, Moonstone, and Kobik on the straight-and-narrow. In live-action, Bucky recently was busy keeping the Marvel Cinematic Universe safe alongside Sam Wilson in The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, but now that Sam is off being Captain America (and getting ready to lead the next Captain America movie), Bucky could eventually make for a great Thunderbolts leader on the big screen.
At the time of his arrest, the comic book incarnation of Crossbones was known as the man who attempted to assassinate Captain America and loved the Red Skull’s daughter, Sin. Luke Cage almost immediately vetoed his involvement in the Thunderbolts, but he still went on a handful of missions, which lead to his exposure to the Terrigen Mists. In the MCU, Brock Rumlow was initially introduced as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent in Captain America: The Winter Soldier but turned out to truly be part of HYDRA . He was badly hurt by the end of that film, but returned in Captain America: Civil War with a new look and gear, as he attempted to steal a biological agent with his team. The Avengers stopped him and Rumlow died by his own hand, but hey, he’s a Marvel character! He can still make an unexpected return…
We’ve seen Matt Murdock and Wilson Fisk make their way into Marvel Studios projects, and Thunderbolts could be a great way to have another Netflix-spawned live-action version of a Marvel character, Luke Cage, do the same. In the comics, after Norman Osborn made the foolish decision to attack the Asgardians, he was ousted from power and Cage took over. Thunderbolts was now a program aimed at rehabilitating imprisoned super criminals and Luke brought a unique perspective because he himself had once been wrongly imprisoned. Could the Thunderbolts movie lead to Mike Colter reprising his role as Cage from the Luke Cage series? With rumors always swirling of more of the actors cast for those Netflix shows returning, Luke’s return doesn’t seem like such a stretch.
Marvel Comics’ one-time Captain America fill-in John Walker made his MCU debut in The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, played by Wyatt Russell. In the comics, Walker has had several levels of involvement with the Thunderbolts. When he worked for a mercenary group called The Jury, he was sent after the team and its then leader, Hawkeye. Much later, after suffering grave injuries, Walker became the Warden of The Raft, the prison holding members of the Thunderbolts, working directly with Luke Cage while Cage headed up the team. He was serving in that capacity when he and some members of the team wound up on an unexpected trip through time and space that eventually restored him physically. With the MCU version of Walker now working for the mysterious Valentina, it’s possible that U.S. Agent could be used to head up, join, or even infiltrate a new team like the Thunderbolts.
One of Luke Cage’s Thunderbolts team, Juggernaut took to the idea of playing hero, as he has on a number of other occasions throughout his super-powered career. Though depicted quite differently each time, Juggernaut appeared in live-action in two different 20th Century Fox X-films, X-Men: The Last Stand and Deadpool 2. With Disney snatching up 20th Century and the X-Men film rights — and Deadpool 3 in the works from Marvel Studios — it would seem within the realm of possibility for Professor X’s half brother to wind up eventually turning over a new leaf with the Thunderbolts, whether it be the guy we met before or a different version altogether.
In 2013, General “Thunderbolt” Ross — whose comics incarnation had become the Red Hulk — put together a new Thunderbolts team that consisted of characters who’ve all, by this point, been established in Marvel movies and shows — albeit some that are not part of the MCU proper, or at least haven’t been up until now. This team featured Deadpool, Elektra, Punisher, Bullseye, Agent Venom, Ghost Rider and Red Leader. MCU versions of Ross (played by William Hurt) and Leader (or at least Leader’s alter ego, Samuel Sterns) debuted in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, and Ross would return in Civil War, Infinity War, Endgame, Black Widow. William Hurt’s recent death makes the future for Ross onscreen in the MCU unclear, since it will need to be decided whether to have the character pass away as well or recast the role.
Still, Ross’ Thunderbolts team was rather unique and could be used in a film with or without Ross’ personal presence. We know we’ll see Ryan Reynolds return as Deadpool at some point, of course. Meanwhile, Elektra, Punisher, Bullseye and Ghost Rider all showed up either on Marvel’s Netflix series or Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and with Charlie Cox’s Daredevil and Vincent D’Onofrio’s Kingpin back in play, who’s to say we couldn’t see some of these others return as well?
Venom/Eddie Brock has been the focus of two hugely successful Sony films, while the person who merged with the symbiote to become the “Agent Venom” incarnation of the character in the comics, Flash Thompson, was Peter Parker’s classmate in the MCU Spider-Man films. Putting aside Eddie Brock’s brief trip to the MCU in the mid-credits scenes of Venom: There Will Be Carnage and Spider-Man: No Way Home, a version of Venom is probably the trickiest of the bunch to make it into Marvel Studios’ Thunderbolts story, given Sony controlling the film rights to the character. But these days, anything is possible…
Vincent D’Onofrio expertly captured the essence of Wilson Fisk on the Daredevil series, though it was unclear for a while if any elements from the Marvel shows that originally debuted on Netflix would be incorporated into the larger MCU until Spider-Man: No Way Home and Hawkeye let us know that they’re fair game. D’Onofrio’s return as Kingpin in Hawkeye may have left him presumably shot (off camera) by Echo, but that guy can take a lot of punishment. In the comics, Wilson Fisk eventually became the mayor of New York City and established his own army of super-villains to work for him, which he dubbed the Thunderbolts. At this point, though, it seems far more likely that Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ Valentina will fill that role in the film, but you never know. Either way, it’s worth noting that Fisk’s squad included a couple of characters who also already have MCU incarnations. Such as…
Antonia Dreykov’s criminal father implanted her with a chip that allowed her to process information at an incredible rate, resulting in an ability to mimic the expert fighting moves of others. Though she spent most of Black Widow trying to kill the main character, as the masked Taskmaster, she was ultimately once more given control of herself by the end. The comic book version of Taskmaster has a murkier origin, but similar abilities, offering up his skills to the highest bidders. He has also been roped into working for the Thunderbolts on a number of occasions, including for Kingpin. It seems likely that the Taskmaster portrayed by Olga Kurylenko in the MCU could have connections to the team either as a member or perhaps fill a role as someone in charge of training them.
An internationally known mercenary with more than a little red in his ledger, Georges St. Pierre’s Batroc made his onscreen debut in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Real life Ultimate Fighting Champion St-Pierre brought his skills to the role, which pitted him against Captain America. Years later, he ran into Cap’s old pals, Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes, in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, though he wound up on the wrong end of his former boss Sharon Carter’s gun and seemed to perish. Anyone with the budget to put the Thunderbolts together though could swing in and offer proper medical attention for a guy who has gone toe-to-toe with some of the best heroes around. The character has had minimal Thunderbolts involvement on the page, working briefly for Fisk’s first team, but could be a great addition to the MCU version.
In Spider-Man: Homecoming, the main villain was Michael Keaton’s Adrian “Vulture” Toomes, a dealer in high tech weapons built from discarded super battles. His right hand man, Herman Schultz (Bokeem Woodbine), put on a pair of electricity launching gauntlets while facing the Web-Head as the Shocker, with their last confrontation ending with him webbed to a bus. Given that the power comes from a weapon, Woodbine could return as Schultz or they could go the route of the comics and introduce a new Shocker, like Francine Fry who was also a part of Kingpin’s Thunderbolts. After all, Schultz was already the second of Toomes’ crew to don these power gloves in the MCU, as the first, Jackson Brice, was taken out by Toomes.
There are also other notable Spidey villains we’ve met onscreen who have served at one point or the other as Thunderbolts in the comics, like Doctor Octopus and Electro, not to mention Green Goblin, who had his own Thunderbolts team under his command, though they come with some multiverse complications – unless we were to meet new versions from the core universe we follow in the MCU that is.
In the MCU’s second movie ever, 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, would-be super soldier Emil Blonksy (Tim Roth) underwent a variety of experiments and ultimately transformed into a large green behemoth known as the Abomination. However, he was defeated by Bruce Banner’s alter ego and placed in a S.H.I.E.L.D. facility. Fans were surprised to see Abomination finally return 13 years later in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, fighting Wong in the Golden Daggers Club, as we also learned he and Wong were apparently friendly outside of the cage.
Abomination’s return to the MCU means he’s on the table when it comes to possibly-reformed villains playing hero in the Thunderbolts. Plus, as revealed in Marvel One Shot: The Consultant, Blonsky was actually considered for the Avengers Initiative, but they went with Banner instead. It’s hard not to think Valentina is looking to recreate echoes of the Avengers lineup, given she’s already recruited a Captain America and a Black Widow with John Walker and Yelena Belova. If she is indeed the one who will be responsible for the Thunderbolts, Blonsky just might get the call too, depending on what role he plays alongside his buddy Wong in She-Hulk: Attorney at Law.