There have been rumors for some time that the Thunderbolts are going to appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Recent developments in shows like The Falcon and the Winter Soldier have made that seem more inevitable than ever. It may not be tomorrow but it seems this group is poised to invade the MCU at some point down that line. That begs the question, who should make up the MCU's Thunderbolts team?
For those who may not be familiar, the Thunderbolts debuted in the pages of The Incredible Hulk #449 in 1997. Created by Kurt Busiek. Initially, they were a group of villains who were disgusting themselves as heroes. There was nothing heroic about it. But things evolved over the years. In many ways, there are often like Marvel's equivalent of DC's Suicide Squad. Though it would not be fair to say they are a carbon copy. But yes, they are often depicted as a team of kinda bad people taking on dangerous missions that lean toward good but definitely can be classified as existing in the grey.
Through the years, quite a few different characters have been a part of the team in the Marvel Comics universe. Currently, the MCU has quite a few characters on the board that fit the bill who could easily help get a Thunderbolts franchise off the ground, be it as a TV show on Disney+ or a movie. So here are seven characters who could make up the MCU's version of the Thunderbolts team.
Every group needs a leader. And a group made up of semi-reformed bad guys most definitely needs someone who can tether them to the right side of the law. Or try to anyway. There is perhaps no one better in the MCU currently positioned to do that with the Thunderbolts than that of Thunderbolt Ross. Played by William Hurt, we first met Ross in The Incredible Hulk. While Hurt has reprised the role in movies like Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, he's yet to truly get a meaty part to chew on. Setting him as the head of this team is certainly one way to give Hurt something to do.
In the comics, Ross eventually becomes Red Hulk. And Red Hulk was a big part of the Marvel Now! Thunderbolts team. Yes, we could go the Red Hulk route. But, for the purposes of this pitch, I'm likening it more to the role Amanda Waller has with the Suicide Squad in the DC universe. The powerful government figurehead who has been tasked with making these skilled individuals do some good. Ross may not actually go get his hands dirty as much but he will help ensure that the group stays on task.
Daniel Bruhl's Baron Zemo, for a time, seemed like a one-and-done villain in the MCU. He was the primary antagonist in Captain America: Civil War. Yet, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier changed all of that. The Disney+ show gave us a whole lot more time with Zemo. Beyond that, it set the stage for his eventual return. Yes, he's in jail now on The Raft. But he was in jail before. Perhaps being handed the chance to be part of a team would be a good way for him to get out of jail once again.
Zemo, as it just so happens, was the original leader of the first Thunderbolts team in the pages of Marvel Comics. That, coupled with the character's current position in the MCU makes him a no-brainer. It also doesn't hurt that Zemo has considerable resources, as we saw in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Those resources could be useful to a team such as this. The point is, as things stand, if a Thunderbolts project does happen, it's nearly impossible to imagine it happening without Zemo at this point.
This is another character that was spun directly out of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and another one that seems downright perfect for the proposed project. John Walker, aka U.S. Agent, played by Wyatt Russell, needs something to do in the MCU now. He had a go at being our new Captain America. It didn't pan out. He murdered a guy on camera for the world to see. There is no coming back from that. But there might be a path of relative redemption by being part of a team doing missions that groups like The Avengers simply can't.
Sam Wilson, in the end, took his place as our new Captain America. But The Falcon and the Winter Soldier finale showed us John Walker becoming U.S. Agent. What wasn't clear is where he was going next. If the Thunderbolts assemble, he is the ideal candidate. A guy who had done some bad, strayed from the path, but wants to do some good. Not good enough to be an Avengers. Not bad enough to be thrown in prison. Right in the sweet spot.
While Sebastian Stan's Bucky Barnes, aka The Winter Soldier, was a big part of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, he has been a huge part of the MCU for more than a decade. Yes, the Disney+ show did finally give him a chance to shine. However, in the end, it was Sam Wilson's show. Bucky, crucially, needs something to do. Is there a better example of a former bad guy trying to do some good in this universe than Bucky? Probably not. As such, he is the perfect candidate to work alongside the Thunderbolts.
Bucky doesn't quite have his stuff together enough to be our new Captain America. It also isn't a job he seemed to want. But he clearly still wants to right some of his old wrongs. But there is no denying that Bucky also has a unique understanding of the criminal underworld and doing dirty work. He could be a true asset to a team like the Thunderbolts that might have to go to some dark and complicated places.
The status of the Netflix Marvel shows in the MCU remains somewhat in question. While it seemed, at first, like the shows were set in the same universe, there was only ever tangential connective tissue. That said, it would be very easy for Kevin Feige and Co. to pull the trigger and bring those characters into the wider universe. Should that ever happen, Jon Berthanl's Punisher, aka Frank Castle, would be a no-brainer to join the eventual Thunderbolts team.
Bernthal played the role first in Daredevil season 2 before getting his own show. The Punisher ran for two seasons but was then given the ax when Netflix cleaned house, getting rid of its entire live-action Marvel slate. Yet, Bernthal's take on the character remains beloved by fans. He exists perfectly in that grey area that the Thunderbolts would presumably operate in.
Yes, there is certainly a scenario by which Marvel Studios recasts the role of Frank Castle/Punisher within the MCU. In that case, that new actor, whoever it may be, could be folded into the team as well. Though it seems like the clearest path to making this happen is by taking the guy we've already got and making that work.
This one perhaps falls into the wishful thinking/reaching category. That said, Ghost Rider has been a part of the Thunderbolts in the pages of Marvel Comics and he certainly fits the bill. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. technically takes place within the MCU. A version of Ghost Rider, specifically Robbie Reyes, as portrayed by Gabriel Luna, appeared on that show. So, there is, in theory, a version of the character that could be put to use for this purpose.
That having been said, this role seems destined to be recast at some point down the line. Or, at the very least, we will be introduced by the more widely known Johnny Blaze version. There have even been rumors that Ghost Rider will appear in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. In any event, if that doesn't happen, this feels like a fine place to truly introduce the much-liked antihero without having to green light yet another solo project within Marvel's already jam-packed slate. Work him into the team and then, down the line, give him a solo show/movie once some of what the studio has planned is out in the world.
Last, but certainly not least, there is perhaps no other character sitting on the sidelines more obviously suited to joining the Thunderbolts than Wade Wilson, aka Deadpool. Ryan Reynolds has played the role in two solo movies, as well as a turn that many fans would like to forget in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Setting that aside, Reynolds' character is truly beloved, has generated a ton of money at the box office and is currently doing absolutely nothing. This would give Marvel Studios a tremendous opportunity to bring Deadpool into the wider MCU without compromising the integrity of the character.
Deadpool falls under the X-Men umbrella. That means 20th Century Fox controlled the rights to the character. Both Deadpool and Deadpool 2 were produced by Fox. But when the Disney/Fox merger went into effect in early 2019, Deadpool and the rest of the mutants ended up in Disney's control. As a result, he can be brought into the MCU. However, it's seemed, up to this point, like the brass have had a somewhat difficult time figuring out what to do with Ryan Reynolds and the Merc With a Mouth. Yes, Deadpool 3 is in development but the fact that it took so long to even get writers hired for the sequel is telling.
In the comics, Deadpool has been part of the team. And it's easy to see why. He rides that line between good and bad so perfectly that it's hard not to picture him getting in the saddle with the likes of Zemo and Frank Castle for some wild missions. This would give Deadpool a way to interact with the rest of the MCU, while still keeping the door open for solo projects. It would also be a great way to get a headline-grabbing name on board for Thunderbolts show/movie. Whether or not this can/will happen remains unclear, but it certainly makes a lot of sense.