The Stars Leaving The Marvel Universe, And Those Who Are Sticking Around

Excitement levels are high among Marvel fans awaiting the April 26 release of “Avengers: Endgame,” the grand conclusion to a franchise that has so far spawned 22 films.

The fate of our favorite characters — and the actors who play them — is, as always, a major talking point. Who will survive beyond “Endgame?” Who’s bowing out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) for good? There will always be big questions, and not always definitive answers  — at least, not until the movie debuts.

But one thing that’s certain is that “Endgame” isn’t actually the end. After all, a second Spider-Man film is due out in July. The film will start Phase Four of the MCU.

“We’re gonna keep making movies,” Marvel boss Kevin Feige told IGN. “We’re gonna still keep making movies after these two. And we will talk about them soon after ‘Spider-Man: Far From Home comes out.”

In the meantime, here’s what we know about who’s leaving, who’s staying, and whose future is still up in the air.

Warning: If you aren’t completely caught up on your MCU films, there are some spoilers ahead!

Leaving: Gwyneth Paltrow (Pepper Potts)

As Tony Stark’s love interest Pepper Potts, Gwyneth Paltrow has been a supporting character in the Marvel Universe since 2008, when she appeared in “Iron Man.” She went on to star in “Iron Man 2,” “The Avengers,” “Iron Man 3,” “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” and “Avengers: Infinity War.” Potts even appeared in the form of a photograph in the direct-to-video short film “Marvel One-Shot: All Hail the King.” However, Paltrow announced recently that the forthcoming “Avengers: Endgame” would be her last MCU film.

She told Variety, “I mean, I’m a bit old to be in a suit and all that at this point.”

And at the world premiere of “Avengers: Endgame” she reflected on being part of the MCU, saying, “It’s just been an amazing experience to be a part of for all these 10 plus years and it’s very nostalgic and emotional and it’s wonderful to be here. We’re so excited.”

Staying: Benedict Cumberbatch (Doctor Strange)

He may still be best known for playing Sherlock Holmes in the TV series “Sherlock,” but Benedict Cumberbatch has already portrayed Doctor Strange in four Marvel movies since 2016: “Doctor Strange,” “Thor: Ragnarok,” “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame.”

With a stand-alone sequel reportedly in development for the Sorcerer Supreme, Cumberbatch’s role in the Marvel universe isn’t over just yet. “Doctor Strange” director Scott Derrickson hasn’t confirmed any details, but sources told The Hollywood Reporter that a May 2021 release date is likely.

Leaving: Chris Hemsworth (Thor)

After playing Thor in the three “Thor” movies and the four “Avengers” movies (including “Endgame”), Chris Hemsworth confirmed in January that he would be putting down his hammer.

“Contractually, right now — yeah, this is it. I’m done. I won’t be playing the character again,” he told USA Today. “It’s sort of a scary thought. This really seemed like this never-ending thing. And now it’s potentially finishing.”

However, Hemsworth has also hinted that he would be up for “Thor 4,” if it ever came about.

“I feel like we re-invented (Thor),” he said of his and “Thor: Ragnarok” director Taika Waititi’s vision for the son of Odin. “There is a bigger platform now to continue if we want to.”

Staying: Brie Larson (Captain Marvel)

Brie Larson has only just entered the Marvel universe, but what an entrance she made. The March 2019 release of “Captain Marvel” broke box-office records on its opening weekend, grossing $153 million in North America and $455 million worldwide. This made it the biggest global debut for a woman-fronted film of all time. It’s also the second-biggest debut for any superhero movie, topped only by another Marvel production, “Avengers: Infinity War.”

Larson is back as Captain Marvel in “Endgame” and Marvel Studios’ top man Feige has more than hinted that she’ll eventually lead the Avengers.

Unknown: Don Cheadle (War Machine)

Don Cheadle has always remained tight-lipped when asked about his Marvel contract.

His first appearance in the MCU was in “Iron Man 2,” taking over the role of Lt. Col. James Rhodes, also known as War Machine, from Terrence Howard. He returned in “Iron Man 3,” “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” “Captain America: Civil War,” “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Captain Marvel” and is back for “Avengers: Endgame.”

Whether his Marvel journey continues beyond that is anyone’s guess.

Staying: Tom Hiddleston (Loki)

Tom Hiddleston has played the impish Loki since the first Thor movie was released in 2011. At the time, the actor told the Italian website Comicus, “When I signed my contract, I signed to play Loki in five more Marvel movies, but they were unspecified.”

Doing the math, that makes “Endgame” his sixth and final Marvel movie — he also appeared in “The Avengers,” “Thor: The Dark World,” “Thor: Ragnarok” and “Avengers: Infinity War.”

However, Hiddleston isn’t giving up the role just yet. In November 2018, Disney confirmed that he would star in a Loki TV series for streaming service Disney+, putting “the god of mischief” center stage. But, of course, that doesn’t mean we know Loki’s “Endgame” fate, especially since it’s going to be hard to come back from what happened to him in “Infinity War”…right?

Unknown: Zoe Saldana (Gamora)

All Marvel fans know that death doesn’t necessarily mean the end, especially in the comic-book world. So despite meeting her demise during “Avengers: Infinity War,” the jury’s still out on whether Zoe Saldana will return as Gamora in “Avengers: Endgame.” Saldana’s first MCU role was in 2014’s “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and she also starred in the sequel. If she does make an appearance in “Endgame,” there’s a good chance it will be her last.

But who knows? In 2018, Saldana explained to the Los Angeles Times that she didn’t know if she’d be back for “Endgame,” and there’s good reason to keep quiet on such things.

“For the sake of the devoted fans out there — we don’t want to rob them of an amazing experience,” she said. “It’s all for them that we do what we do and we also protect what we do.”

Staying: Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow)

Fans have been begging for a Black Widow solo movie since Scarlett Johansson made such an impact in the role in 2010’s “Iron Man 2.” It seems their wish will finally come true in 2020, when the high-tech Russian agent will lead Marvel’s second female-focused film after “Captain Marvel.” Feige said in 2016 that the studio and parent company Disney were committing to giving Black Widow a big-screen solo turn.

“We think she’s an amazing character,” Feige said. “We think Scarlett Johansson’s portrayal of her is amazing. She’s a lead Avenger and has amazing stories in her own right to tell that we think would be fun to turn into a standalone franchise.”

The Wrap reported in 2018 that “Blacklist” screenwriter Jac Schaeffer is writing the screenplay, with Cate Shortland slated to be the first woman to solo-direct an MCU film. It’s said to be set before the first “Avengers” film, so we still don’t know what Black Widow’s ultimate fate in “Endgame” will be.

Leaving: Idris Elba (Heimdall)

As the all-seeing, all-hearing Bifrost gatekeeper Heimdall, Idris Elba starred in the first Thor movie and returned for both “Thor: The Dark World” and “Thor: Ragnarok.” He also made a fleeting appearance in “Avengers: Infinity War” but was killed early on. This makes it pretty likely he won’t be in any future Marvel productions, even though it’s not unusual for characters to be brought back to life.

In 2018, Elba said he had “no idea” if Heimdall would be back, telling Metro, “It’s been amazing playing in the Marvel family. I’m sure they decided to get rid of as many characters because they’ve run their natural course.”

Staying: Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye)

Another actor staying firmly in the Marvel universe is Jeremy Renner. He played Hawkeye the archer in 2011’s “Thor,” followed by the first two Avengers films (he wasn’t in the third, due to Hawkeye being under house arrest after assisting Captain America) and the third “Captain America” movie.

Renner, who also stars in the upcoming “Avengers: Endgame,” confirmed in 2014 that he had signed on to a Hawkeye spinoff. Variety confirmed this month that Renner was attached to a limited series based on the master archer where he passes his torch on to a new generation. The series is being developed for Disney+.

Leaving: Anthony Hopkins (Odin)

Anthony Hopkins’ MCU character Odin (Thor’s dad and King of Asgard) was killed off in 2017’s “Thor: Ragnarok” and the veteran actor hasn’t been linked to any subsequent Marvel productions. Of course, you never know what the Marvel team have up their sleeves — but Hopkins, who’s now 81, has been busy with other projects. This includes the 2018 telefilm of “King Lear,” for which Hopkins is considered a top contender for an Emmy nomination.

Staying: Winston Duke (M’Baku)

Despite his character M’Baku not popping up in any trailers for “Avengers: Endgame,” Winston Duke has confirmed he’s coming back, after appearing in “Black Panther” and “Avengers: Infinity War.”

“Yes, I’m in the new Avengers movie. I’m in ‘Endgame’ and it is one heck of a ride!” he told GQ.

With Ryan Coogler writing a sequel to “Black Panther” and a release date of 2020 or 2021 looking likely, Duke’s future with Marvel won’t be ending any time soon.

Leaving: Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man)

Is it the end for Iron Man? We don’t know for sure, but we do know that it’s the end of Robert Downey Jr.’s Marvel contract after “Avengers: Endgame.” The actor hasn’t confirmed or denied reports that he’ll be leaving Marvel, but a comment by his co-star Chris Evans last year has led many to believe he’s done.

“A lot of our contracts are through,” Evans said on “Good Morning America” in 2018. “Myself, Downey Jr., Hemsworth, we all started roughly at the same time, and I think we all through ‘Avengers 4’ kind of wrap it up. I don’t know what’s next — but by 2019, that’s it.”

In 2017, Downey Jr. himself admitted, “I just want to hang up my jersey before it’s embarrassing.” Paltrow’s confirmed exit suggests her on-screen love’s departure is also likely.

Staying: Jon Favreau (Happy Hogan)

If Downey Jr.’s Iron Man (aka Tony Stark) bites the dust, it seems reasonable to assume that Stark’s longtime buddy and loyal driver Happy Hogan, played by Jon Favreau, would be written out as well. But Happy features in the “Spider-Man: Far From Home” trailer, which hits theaters in July 2019 and is the third and final Marvel movie of 2019.

Favreau has a long history with Marvel — he has played Happy since 2008 and directed the first two “Iron Man” movies — so he could be staying for a while yet.

Leaving: Chris Evans (Captain America)

Captain America himself (Chris Evans) hasn’t been coy about his future with Marvel; he started hinting over a year ago that “Avengers: Endgame” would be his last outing as the red, white and blue boy scout.

After filming wrapped on “Endgame” in 2018, Evans told The New York Times, “You want to get off the train before they push you off.”

A few months later, he tweeted a farewell to the franchise. “Officially wrapped on Avengers 4,” he posted. “It was an emotional day to say the least. Playing this role over the last 8 years has been an honor. To everyone in front of the camera, behind the camera, and in the audience, thank you for the memories! Eternally grateful.”

Staying: Cobie Smulders (Maria Hill)

She’s most famous for playing Robin in the hit TV series “How I Met Your Mother,” but Cobie Smulders has a long potential future ahead of her as S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Maria Hill.

In 2011, the actress signed a seven-picture deal with Marvel that began with 2012’s “The Avengers.” Following that, she appeared in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and “Avengers: Infinity War” and returns in “Endgame” and “Spider-Man: Far From Home.” That means she could still star in one more Marvel movie after that — but we don’t know for sure!

Unknown: Mark Ruffalo (Hulk)

Mark Ruffalo has played the Incredible Hulk since 2012’s “The Avengers,” but if he doesn’t renew his contract after “Avengers: Endgame” he may be departing the Marvel universe.

He told Collider in 2012 that he’d signed a six-picture deal, and after “The Avengers” he appeared in “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” “Thor: Ragnarok” and “Avengers: Infinity War.” Yes, that makes five — but he also made a brief appearance in a post-credit scene in “Iron Man 3.” Whether this counts as number six depends on the terms of his contract. Time will tell whether he comes back as his big green alter ego.

Staying: Paul Rudd (Ant-Man)

Paul Rudd has played Ant-Man in two solo films, made a brief appearance in “Captain America: Civil War” and returns in the upcoming “Avengers: Endgame.” However, Marvel head Feige told The Hollywood Reporter in 2015 that Rudd had signed a “three-plus-plus” deal with Marvel, which suggests he’ll reprise his role as the miniature hero for “Ant-Man 3” at least.

On the “Endgame” press trail, Rudd revealed how “surreal” it has been to be part of the Marvel universe.

“It’s an incredible thing to be part of, something this global, that has this passionate fan base,” he said.

Unknown: Chris Pratt (Star-Lord)

“Guardians of the Galaxy” made Chris Pratt one of the most popular Marvel stars, but his time in the MCU could be coming to an end. It’s reported that the last film on Pratt’s contract is “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” which had been surrounded in controversy and uncertainty since director James Gunn was fired over old offensive tweets. However, he was reinstated by Disney in March 2019.

Pratt told MTV News that Gunn’s script was being used.

“It’s off the chain, it’s so good,” he said.

Pratt also appears in “Avengers: Endgame,” and has said on numerous occasions that he wouldn’t have to think twice about renegotiating his contract to keep working in MCU movies.

“I love working with them. I’m going to continue to work with them whether they like it or not,” he told /Film in 2017. “Even if they write me out, I’m going to show up on set and be like, ‘Hey, man!’ They’re done. They don’t get to shake me.”

Staying: Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther)

In 2014, Chadwick Boseman signed a five-picture deal with Marvel to play Black Panther. To date, he’s been in “Captain America: Civil War,” “Black Panther,” “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame.” This gives him one movie left on his contract, which will probably be the “Black Panther” sequel. “Black Panther 2” hasn’t been confirmed (or named) but has been given the green light by Marvel head honcho Feige.

Feige said in 2018 that he had “nothing specific to reveal, other than to say we absolutely will do that. One of the favorite pastimes at Marvel Studios is sitting around on a part one and talking and dreaming about what we would do in a part two. There have been plenty of those conversations as we were putting together the first ‘Black Panther.’ We have ideas and a pretty solid direction on where we want to head with the second one.”

Considering the huge success of “Black Panther” (it earned over $1 billion worldwide), it’s extremely unlikely that Boseman is going anywhere fast.