Summary

  • Despite MCU’s success, highest-paid actors in 2023 haven’t been cast in MCU movies yet.
  • MCU may benefit from star power of top earners, focusing on quality over quantity for future projects.
  • Roles for Denzel Washington, Ben Affleck, Leonardo DiCaprio, and others could be potential MCU additions.

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2023’s highest-paid actors have been named, and despite the MCU featuring a who’s who of Hollywood royalty, practically none of the names on the list been cast in an MCU movie. In spite of the historic Box Office flop that was The Marvels in November, the MCU remains the most successful cinematic franchise in history and has more resources to pay for big names now than it did in its earliest days. This has seen the MCU move from casting relative unknowns like Chris Hemsworth in starring roles to casting A-listers like Pedro Pascal.

Despite this, the list of highest-paid actors in 2023 (as published by Forbes) comprises superstars who have yet to be cast in starring roles in the MCU. Now that the MCU is reportedly looking to recuperate the losses of 2023 by focusing on quality over quantity, it could benefit from capitalizing on the star power of these actors who raked in big bucks thanks mostly to their roles in 2023’s biggest blockbusters. With that in mind, here are the as-yet unannounced MCU roles that the highest earners of 2023 could embody.

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10 Denzel Washington Can Be An Older Kang Variant

Earned $24 Million In 2023

The Equalizer 3

Director
Antoine Fuqua

Release Date
September 1, 2023

Writers
Richard Wenk

Denzel Washington cashed in last year for The Equalizer 3, a franchise that showcases that he is still capable of action roles. His decorated career is replete with complex and commanding characters, from his tenure as Malcom X in the movie of the same name in 1992 to the criminal mastermind Frank Lucas in American Gangster. His aptitude to play both heroes and villains makes him the perfect candidate to fill the void left by one of the MCU’s most compelling villains so far: Kang the Conqueror.

Now that Jonathan Majors has been dropped from the MCU, fan-casts have been rampant with regard to his replacement. Denzel Washington is among the most popular of these, with the Hollywood veteran being well-suited to an older variant of the arch-villain of the MCU’s Multiverse Saga. With the MCU in crisis following Majors’ departure, bringing in a star as huge as Washington could be particularly beneficial to the MCU and its ability to draw in casual viewers.

9 Ben Afleck Can Redeem His Daredevil Tenure

Earned $38 Million In 2023

Air

Release Date
April 5, 2023

Studio(s)
Amazon Studios

Writers
Alex Convery

Ben Affleck’s ill-fated foray into the Superhero genre began with his role as Matt Murdock in 2003’s Daredevil and ended with his last appearance as Bruce Wayne in 2023’s The Flash. Unfortunately for Affleck, whose back catalog includes the Oscar-winning Good Will Hunting and Argo, the movies he starred in were not generally well-received. Compounding this tragedy is the fact that the movies were criticized despite Affleck’s performance, which is seen as one of Daredevil‘s few redeeming qualities.

For that reason, Affleck deserves a chance to redeem his tenure as Matt Murdock by appearing as a variant of the character in the MCU. Now that Murdock is already established in the MCU as played by Charlie Cox, a cameo appearance as a Daredevil variant is the only explicable way in which this can occur. Rumors suggest that Deadpool & Wolverine will be the movie in which Affleck reprises his role, but this remains to be seen.

8 Leonardo DiCaprio’s Acting Ability Is Fit For Norman Osborn

Earned $41 Million In 2023

Leonardo DiCaprio’s acting chops are exemplified by the sheer breadth of characters he has portrayed over the years, culminating in his Oscar win for his role as Hugh Glass in 2015’s The Revenant. Given that he was recently reported to have dissuaded Timothy Chalamet from taking any superhero movie roles, the likelihood that he would join the MCU in any capacity is diminished. With that being said, a role like Norman Osborn – something that fellow Hollywood royal Willem Dafoe took on with relish – provides ample room for DiCaprio to flex his celebrated acting skills.

Thanks to his status as one of Spider-Man’s most iconic adversaries, and the fact that Willem Dafoe set the bar so high, Norman Osborn is a character that requires safe and capable hands. DiCaprio’s role as Jordan Belfort demonstrates a chaotic energy suitable for Osborn’s Green Goblin persona, while the charismatic gravitas of his role as New York’s premier tycoon and leading scientist is exemplified by DiCaprio’s tenure as J. Edgar Hoover and Howard Hughes. DiCaprio is no stranger to playing sinister and power-hungry villains either, as demonstrated by his iconic role as Calvin Candie in Django Unchained.

Leonardo DiCaprio is often cast in the movies of Martin Scorsese, who is famously outspoken against superhero movies and might help explain DiCaprio’s own lack of support for the genre.

7 Jason Statham’s Action Chops Suit Joey Chapman’s Union Jack

Earned $41 Million In 2023

The Beekeeper

Director
David Ayer

Release Date
January 12, 2024

Studio(s)
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer , MiraMax , Cedar Park Studios , Punch Palace Productions

Writers
Kurt Wimmer

Cast
Jason Statham , Emmy Raver-Lampman , Josh Hutcherson , Bobby Naderi , Minnie Driver , Phylicia Rashad , Jeremy Irons

Chapman is a working-class vigilante with no notable superpowers, which fits Statham’s preference for more “grounded” action roles.

Jason Statham is a British actor who often finds himself typecast as a rough-and-ready cockney capable of extraordinary action-packed feats. This alone places him in close proximity to the superhero genre, though he has yet to cross the thin line between superhero movies and more run-of-the-mill action movies. He came close to bridging the gap after Kevin Feige eyed him for an undisclosed MCU role, but he turned it down due to scheduling conflicts.

As ready as Statham is to bring the necessary physicality to an MCU role, his ability to imitate an accent is questionable (most recently exemplified by his role in The Beekeeper). For that reason, he would be better suited to the most recent iteration of Union Jack: Joey Chapman. Chapman is a working-class vigilante with no notable superpowers, which fits Statham’s preference for more “grounded” action roles. The arrival of Olivia Coleman’s Sonya Falsworth to the MCU, meanwhile, makes Union Jack’s debut even more likely, giving Feige the chance to cast Statham after all.

6 Jennifer Aniston Could Provide The Voice Of Nemesis

Earned $42 Million In 2023

Murder Mystery 2

Director
Jeremy Garelick

Release Date
March 31, 2023

Studio(s)
Netflix

Writers
James Vanderbilt

Jennifer Aniston is most famous for her role as Rachel Green in the seminal sitcom Friends. Since then, Aniston’s Hollywood career has comprised more understated roles with forays into drama and comedy, with no notable action roles to speak of. This precludes Aniston from an array of action-packed Marvel characters, but the fact that Aniston recently ruffled feathers by decrying Marvel movies and their effect on cinema compounds the unlikelihood that she would ever take an MCU role.

With that in mind, a voice-acted bit part might be the only thing that could warm Aniston to an MCU payday. Nemesis is a somewhat tragic cosmic entity who was responsible for the creation of the Infinity Stones in the comics after her loneliness drove her to end her own life. With such a small yet consequential role, the cosmic entity may well be the only kind of role that Aniston would wish to lend her voice to, bringing a maternal element to the character reminiscent of her role as Annie Hughes in The Iron Giant.

Earned $43 Million In 2023

Barbie

Release Date
July 21, 2023

Studio(s)
LuckyChap Entertainment , Mattel Films , Heyday Films

Cast
Margot Robbie , Ryan Gosling , Simu Liu , Ariana Greenblatt , Helen Mirren , Nicola Coughlan , John Cena , Will Ferrell , Ritu Arya , Michael Cera , America Ferrera , Alexandra Shipp , Kate McKinnon

With Barbie being the highest-grossing movie of 2023, it is no wonder that Ryan Gosling has made Forbes’ top ten, and his tenure as the movie’s Ken has quickly become one of its most iconic aspects. The Canadian-born actor has a track record of diverse roles, but his status as a Hollywood heartthrob was not wasted on the casting directors of Barbie. Gosling is already rumored to be joining the MCU in an undisclosed project, and this rumor pairs with confirmation that a Nova project has begun development to reignite the popular fan-cast idea.

Richard Rider’s Nova is the MCU’s new Star-Lord, a cocksure vagabond with an aptitude for comic relief. Like Chris Pratt, Gosling has proven his aptitude for comedy with roles like Ken while his time as Sebastian in La La Land and Dean in Blue Valentine prove that he can cater to more solemn moments. Given that Nova is a lot more powerful than Star-Lord, however, Gosling can still bring the physicality required as demonstrated by his most recent role playing the stuntperson Colt Severs in Fall Guy.

4 Matt Damon Could Help Redeem MODOK As The MCU’s George Tarleton

Earned $42 Million In 2023

Oppenheimer

Release Date
July 21, 2023

Studio(s)
Syncopy Inc. , Atlas Entertainment

Matt Damon is no stranger to action-packed roles, with his tenure as Jason Bourne being the action role for which he is most well-known, but Damon’s career is exemplified more by his capacity for drama. His iconic roles as Will in Good Will Hunting and Mark Watney in The Martian earned him an Academy Award win and nomination for Best Original Screenplay and Best Actor, respectively. Evidently, Damon is proficient at playing likable, smart guys, and the Hollywood superstar does not preclude himself from tongue-in-cheek comic book movie roles, either.

Matt Damon has already made his MCU debut as an Asgardian actor cast in the role of Loki, but given that this is a cameo and does not comprise a “serious” MCU role, there is ample room for Damon to join the MCU in ernest – perhaps even as part of the rumored MCU reboot.

With that in mind, Damon could impact the MCU by portraying the “real” MODOK, George Tarleton. It is difficult to see Damon, who is now 53, taking on a role for longer than a single movie, so flipping the script on his typical affinity for likable characters and having him portray a villain would be a refreshing change of pace for the actor. Whether in Armor Wars or another Iron Man-adjecent movie, the MCU can continue taking creative liberties with its Iron Man villains and sidestep turning Tarleton into MODOK, now that that ship has sailed.

3 Tom Cruise Can Revisit Iron Man As Arno Stark

Earned $45 Million In 2023

Mission Impossible Dead Reckoning

Now that Tony is dead, the vacuum left by his absence is one that Cruise’s Arno could fill in a capacity that sees him misappropriate Stark’s legacy and come up against characters like Riri Williams and James Rhodes.

It isn’t surprising to see Tom Cruise so high up on Forbes’ list of highest-paid actors, given that the reported reason for him skipping out on playing the MCU’s Tony Stark was due to his asking fee being too high at the time. Even at 61, Cruise is famous for performing his own stunts, with his most famous role as Ethan Hunt in the seemingly endless Mission Impossible series culminating in his most recent action-packed stint in Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One. This goes to show that Cruise is more than capable of stepping into a super-suit.

The MCU has come a long way since 2008, and as it continues to cast A-listers in various roles, the unfathomably successful franchise could double down on its original Iron Man plan and have Tom Cruise play Tony Stark’s adoptive bother, Arno, instead. In the comics, Arno Stark’s convoluted story culminates in him co-opting the Iron Man mantle for himself. Now that Tony is dead, the vacuum left by his absence is one that Cruise’s Arno could fill in a capacity that sees him misappropriate Stark’s legacy and come up against characters like Riri Williams and James Rhodes.

Casting Tom Cruise as Arno Stark could also help to pay off the rumored Tony Stark variant cameo in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness that never came to fruition.

2 Margot Robbie Can Redeem Emma Frost’s Cinematic Career

Earned $59 Million In 2023

Margot Robbie has continued to make huge waves in Hollywood following her breakout role as The Wolf of Wall Street‘s Naomi Lapaglia, earning multiple Oscar nominations for her roles in I, Tonya, Bombshell, and Barbie. From this filmography alone, Robbie’s ability to play varied characters is clear, and her proven acting ability lends itself to a Marvel character worthy of more depth than they have thus far received. In that regard, Emma Frost is the perfect candidate.

Emma Frost is one of Marvel’s most compelling characters, whose impact as one of Marvel’s most iconic antiheroes is yet to receive a satisfying big-screen adaptation. Frost is adaptable and enchanting, with a commanding presence and intelligence similar to Robbie’s breakout role as Naomi. Like Osborn, Emma Frost’s popularity demands an actor capable of making a significant impact. Robbie’s star power and acting prowess is perfectly suited to this end, with a physical resemblance that is also difficult to ignore.

1 Adam Sandler Can Become A Personable Uncle Ben

Earned $73 Million In 2023

Adam Sandler’s place atop the list of Hollywood’s highest-paid actors is thanks in part to his successful stand-up tour. This tracks with his typical role as a Hollywood funnyman, often opting for slapstick comedies that rarely earn the favor of critics. His most recognizable roles include The Waterboy‘s Bobby and Little Nicky‘s Nicky. In a surprising about-turn, however, Sandler has recently made waves as a more “credible” actor for dramatic roles, like Uncut Gems‘ Howard. While it is still difficult to remove Sandler from his comedy, this sets him in good stead to play the MCU’s Uncle Ben.

Uncle Ben is often depicted as being much older than Adam Sandler, who is currently 57. However, given the MCU has already aged-down Aunt May, it doesn’t feel too much of a stretch for the franchise to do the same for Uncle Ben. In that regard, Adam Sandler’s personable, lighthearted everyman persona could be well suited to the role, whether as a variant or some other product of creative license that places him in Peter’s life after Aunt May embodied his typical role with her death in Spider-Man: No Way Home.

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