The Marvel Cinematic Universe has released a total of 18 movies since they began with Iron Man in 2008 and with each new addition, we've been introduced to new stories and characters from all walks of life. From super-soldiers to alien gods to vibranium androids, the MCU has created stories that bring these characters to life in a way that's believable. In many cases, they have used science to explain how such spectacular things can be possible, and that leaves a lot of room for the use of highly intelligent individuals. But who is the smartest in the MCU?
This list will look at some of the greatest minds we've seen in MCU movies and television. I will not be including any artificially intelligent individuals, so characters like Vision, Ultron, and Aida, from Marvel's Agents of SHIELD, will be excluded. I will also be focusing on specific individuals that had major impacts on the MCU. There will be some spoilers for MCU movies and television show! If you disagree with my picks, please comment who think is the smartest character in the MCU.
Honorable mentions: Samuel Sterns (The Incredible Hulk - 2008), Jason Wilkes (Marvel’s Agent Carter - Season 2), Johann Fennhoff (Marvel’s Agent Carter - Season 1), Darren Cross (Ant-Man - 2015), Justin Hammer (Iron Man 2 - 2010 & Marvel One-Shot: All Hail the King - 2014), Phineas Mason “Tinkerer” (Spider-Man: Homecoming - 2017), Micro (Marvel’s The Punisher - Season 1)
16. Peter Parker
Peter Parker has been seen putting on the Spidey suit on screen several times, but never in the MCU. That is until Captain America: Civil War was released and Peter swung into action with Team Iron Man. We first caught Peter coming home with a piece of “retro-tech” he’d found in someone’s trash to find Tony Stark hanging out in his living room with his Aunt May. Privately speaking in Peter’s room, Tony promptly compliments the web shooters Peter had made, shortly after joking about his low-tech costume. After a Stark provided fashion upgrade, he was all set for the mission.
The next time we saw Tom Holland’s Peter Parker was in Spider-Man: Homecoming. We were given the chance to see the full extent of the suit’s abilities, but also Peter’s higher than average intelligence. Though this version of Peter is younger than other movie adaptations of the character, he’s still a brilliant student and excels as a member of his high school’s academic decathlon team. Although he quits soon after, to then rejoin and then maybe quit? Just make up your mind Pete!
We’ll just have to wait and see if he becomes as brilliant as his comic counterpart, or at least as smart as the previous movie versions.
15. Erik Selvig
Erik Selvig was first introduced in Thor in 2011 as a leading astrophysicist and teacher to Jane Foster and Darcy Lewis. Being one of the first to encounter Thor once he was banished to Earth, he was essential in Thor’s journey to get back into Odin’s good graces. By the time the events of The Avengers began, Selvig had been recruited by SHIELD and was experimenting on the Tesseract when Loki first arrived on Earth. Realizing his immense knowledge, Loki put Selvig under mind control using the Mind Stone, which was inside his scepter. Once Loki was defeated by the Avengers, Selvig was released from the stone’s control, but not without lingering effects. In Thor: The Dark World, Selvig was found and rescued by Darcy and her new intern, Ian, from a mental institution, where he had been sent after a mental break down in London.
Even though a breakdown and being heavily medicated, Selvig still managed to predict the Convergence and find where on Earth it would take place. In the end, he may have even saved Thor and Jane’s lives.
And let’s not even get into his possible discovery of the multiverse. Who knows? Maybe that really was just his meds.
14. Dr. Stephen Strange
Before learning how to become the Sorcerer Supreme, Dr. Stephen Strange was a much sought-after neurosurgeon. Although he was world famous for his work, he was incredibly arrogant and isolated himself from colleagues and others close to him. After being in a tragic car accident and needing to have pins inserted into his hands, his career as a neurosurgeon was over, but he wasn’t ready to accept that. Dr. Strange spent all of his money searching for a way to fix his hands when he heard of Kamar-Taj and the Ancient One.
Once Dr. Strange found way past his arrogance under the teachings of the Ancient One and Karl Mordo, he used his eidetic memory to speed through his lessons and became more and more curious about the true purpose of Secret Sanctums and artifacts, like the Eye of Agamotto. He was even able to use it to alter time immediately after reading one of the Ancient One’s private books and later got the upper hand on Dormammu with the same abilities.
But even more impressive than Dr. Stange’s quick rise to potentially becoming the Sorcerer Supreme and his past success as a neurosurgeon, he is incredible at hit 70’s music trivia.
In Captain America: The First Avenger we get to see Captain America and the Howling Commandos take on Red Skull’s Hydra forces, which currently possess the Tesseract. Thanks to Arnim Zola, one of Red Skull’s top scientists, Hydra is able to harness the power of the Tesseract and weaponize it, potentially turning the tide of World War II. After the Allied forces defeated Hydra, Arnim Zola was recruited by the United States as a part of the newly former SHIELD.
It was Arnim Zola that resurrected Hydra from inside SHIELD, which led to the events in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. In the movie, which takes place over 70 years after the events of the first movie in 2014, Hydra agents that have infiltrated every level of SHIELD are activated by Alexander Pierce, which turns Captain America and Black Widow into fugitives. While on the run, they discover an abandoned training facility in New Jersey. They power up the computers to find that Arnim Zola’s consciousness has been uploaded onto before he died. Zola then notifies Hydra of their location, leading to the bombing of the building.
Even after death, Arnim Zola’s brilliance once unrelentingly dedicated to Hydra.
12. Franklin Hall
In season one of Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, Agent Coulson, and his team took on Ian Quinn in one of their first missions. Quinn had “abducted” Franklin Hall to tap into his knowledge of the unstable element called gravitonium. Franklin Hall had worked as a SHIELD scientist for years taught at the SHIELD Academy of Science and Technology. During his time in college with Quinn and at SHIELD, Hall developed and continued his theoretical research on the dangerous element.
Knowing Quinn’s reckless intentions, Hall willingly leaked the information of his transfer and pretended to work with him in order to stop the research before the highly combustible element caused any harm. In the end, Hall sacrificed himself to stop Quinn’s experiments.
His years of research and immense knowledge of gravitonium saved many lives.
11. Holden Radcliffe
When Hive, an inhuman that returned to Earth from another planet, wanted to create new inhumans he kidnapped a transhumanist, named Holden Radcliffe. He jumped at the opportunity to work on such experiments, but was unsuccessful in completing his task. Once SHIELD rescued him and stopped Hive, he was offered a deal. He could continue working on other experiments as long as he regularly reported his work to SHIELD, but soon after started work on creating Life-Model Decoys.
After reading the Darkhold, a book that allows the reader to build what they want most, Radcliffe became unable to resist using his new knowledge to continue his work. Soon, he was unable to control Aida, who was his original LMD creation, and she killed him and locked his consciousness in the Framework. Radcliffe had created the Framework to send an individual’s consciousness while he used an LMD copy of them to further his plan. After the whole team was trapped in the Framework by Aida, Radcliffe sacrificed the last piece of him that still survived, his consciousness, to help them escape.
Coming up with ideas never seemed to be a problem for Holden Radcliffe, but he was never the best with the end product.
10. Abraham Erskine
In the midst of World War II, America was looking for a leg up on the powerful Axis forces and began researching ways to enhance their soldiers. They turned to Abraham Erskine, a former German scientist that fled to the United States, to perfect his previous project, the Super Soldier Serum. While in Germany, he’d given an earlier version of the serum to Johann Schmidt, who then became the Red Skull. His next, and last, version of the serum is what turn Steve Rogers into Captain America.
Erskine’s brilliance helped to create the hero that stopped Hydra and later became a founding member of the Avengers. Unfortunately, Erskine was murdered directly after the procedure and the only other sample of the serum was destroyed during the attempted capture of his killer.
9. Jemma Simmons
After Phil Coulson’s tragic run-in with Loki during The Avengers got his very own team for the Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD television show. He was able to handpick the agents he wanted, and while some ended up being questionable decisions (*cough cough* Ward), he created a great overall team. One of the original members is Jemma Simmons, a young biochemist, was pulled right from the SHIELD Academy of Science and Technology, along with her partner, Leo Fitz. The pair had never seen fieldwork before, and while initially being excited, quickly realized the dangers they were facing.
Together with Fitz, Simmons worked on all of the missions that the team faced. She has not only treated countless members and nonmembers of the team medically, but has played a key role in understanding the technology of the Centipede Project, the biology of the Inhumans, found a cure to an alien virus she’d contracted from a Chitauri helmet and was appointed as Special Advisor to the Director In Science and Technology while Jeffrey Mace was Director. Even going back to season one, Simmons helped cracked the case on how to perfect the night-night gun.
Now, not only is Jemma one of the smartest people in the MCU, she’s also a total badass!
8. Bruce Banner
Bruce Banner is a renowned scientist for his work in Biochemistry, Gamma Radiation and Nuclear Physics. He was approached by then General Thaddeus Ross to attempt to recreate the Super Soldier Serum that gave Captain America his powers, but during his experiment he was exposed accidentally exposed to gamma radiation and quickly found that whenever his heart rate would reach a certain level he would turn into an angry, green monster called the Hulk.
After trying to live off the radar for some time, so to not put anyone in danger, Banner reached out to Samuel Sterns for help finding a way to reverse his current condition. Unfortunately, Sterns wasn’t completely forthcoming with his intentions and kept samples of Banner’s blood, which he was later forced to use to create the Abomination. After Banner became the Hulk to stop Abomination, he went back into hiding and focused on helping treat the ill.
Banner later agreed to join the Avengers, and in Avengers: Age of Ultron, worked with Tony Stark to create an artificial intelligence, named Ultron. Ultron quickly turned against them and eventually destroyed most of Sokovia. Although he was unable to control it, Banner did successfully create AI that could think and act on its own. Too bad it didn’t work out better him.
7. Helen Cho
During the events that immediately succeeded the creation of Ultron, Helen Cho was put under mind control by the AI and tasked with making a humanoid body for Ultron which would be powered by the Mind Stone. Cho is a world-renowned geneticist and had invented the machine called the Cradle, which she used to heal Hawkeye after a battle with Hydra. It was this same machine that Ultron forced her to use to create the body.
After Scarlet Witch discovered Ultron’s true intentions and stopped him, the Avengers recovered the body and it later became Vision, once J.A.R.V.I.S.’s powerful robot mind merged with it. It was hugely because of Vision that the Avengers were able to stop Ultron, so without Helen Cho, Ultron may have completed his goal.
6. Ivan Antonovich Vanko
If nothing else, Ivan Antonovich Vanko had inherited two things from his father, the disgraced scientist Anton Vanko. His high intellect and a hatred for anyone with the last name Stark, so I guess he’s the MCU version of a Lannister.
Ivan Vanko was a Russian physicist, and then when his father died with no money or recognition because of Howard Stark, he promised to get revenge on the Starks. He used a mini arc reactor to attempt to kill Tony Stark, but failed and was apprehended by law enforcement. While in prison, Justin Hammer broke him out and asked him to assist with the creation of Hammer Drones. Eventually, the combined efforts of Iron Man and War Machine were enough to stop Vanko.
Ivan Antonovich Vanko's intelligence was likely close to the level of the Starks, but because of his lack of resources, we didn't get to see the extent of his technological potential.
5. Leo Fitz
Leo Fitz joined Phil Coulson’s team on Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD at the same time as Simmons. He was pulled from the SHIELD Academy of Science and Technology and has been the solution to countless missions for the team. While he worked closely with others on many of his projects, he was often the key to completing them. He figured out how to cloak the Zephyr One, helped Holden Radcliffe build the AI Aida, and found a way to close the rift to the Fear Dimension.
Even though everything Fitz has been through, from constant separations from the love of his life, a severe head injury after being trapped at the bottom of the ocean, and having an evil alter-ego of himself unleashed while stuck in the Framework.
While Fitz continues to grow as an engineer and agent, we’ll have to wait to see how far he’ll go.
4. Howard Stark
Howard Stark was the founder of Stark Industries and worked on numerous government projects during World War II. Working closely with Peggy Carter he was a founding member of SHIELD. Before that, he worked on projects such as creating Captain America’s second shield, helped Carter research Zero Matter, and created the arc-reactor with Anton Vanko. While with SHIELD, Howard Stark also worked with Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man.
He had a son named Tony who, because of his lifestyle and numerous projects, distanced himself from his father. After years of attempts, Howard somehow acquired the Super Soldier Serum and was consequently killed by the Winter Soldier, under the orders of Hydra.
Howard Stark was a brilliant man who left Stark Industries to his son, leaving him both a successful company and a fortune.
3. Hank Pym
Throughout history, SHIELD has done a good job at finding and recruiting some of the most brilliant brains in the world, and that’s exactly what they did with Hank Pym. Well for a while it was. Pym is the entomologist and physicist that created the Ant-Man suit while working as a consultant for SHIELD and took up the mantle. It was during this time that Pym, and his wife, Janet Van Dyne or the Wasp, went on numerous missions. One of the missions was to intercept a Soviet ICBM in mid-flight. With Pym unable to penetrate the titanium shell due to damage to his suit, Van Dyne shrunk down to a subatomic level to disable it. Through doing so, she was also lost in the Quantum Realm.
Pym spent years researching the Quantum Realm, straining his relationship with his daughter, Hope. Shortly after his wife’s death, he left SHIELD on less than good terms and started his own company, Pym Technologies. He locked his suit away, but continued his research and creating new tech. Eventually, when his former student, Darren Cross, attempted to steal technology and sell it, he recruited Scott Lang to take on the mantle of the Ant-Man.
Hank Pym is the leading researcher on the Quantum Realm, and his company rivals Stark Industries in its technology, although Pym kept his research much more private than his competitors.
2. Tony Stark
In the MCU’s debut success, Iron Man, audiences were introduced to the story of how Tony Stark became the Iron Man. But even before putting on the suit, Tony was a self-described genius, billionaire, playboy, and philanthropist. He was also the former head of CEO, before turning it over to his fiance, Pepper Potts. Tony became the Iron Man after being abducted by the Ten Rings, where they attempted to have him make weapons for them. Instead, he made the Iron Man suit with the help of Ho Yinsen, who had also helped create a small arc-reactor to place in Tony’s chest to keep him alive. After completing the suit, he broke free and returned home.
Since then, he has built countless versions of the Iron Man suit, including one Colonel James Rhodes uses as War Machine, worked with Bruce Banner to create Ultron, created at least two different suits for Spider-Man, and created a suit strong enough to match up with the Hulk, called the Hulk Buster.
Up until recently, it was likely that most people were in agreement that Tony was the smartest person in the MCU. That is until 2018 came along.
Black Panther was a critical and box-office success, quickly earning over a billion worldwide. This was huge because the magnificent job that was done with the world building. Not only was T’challa a great character to watch become king, on top of being the Black Panther, but Wakanda is an amazing place where technology meets a beautiful culture, and all of the supporting characters shined. A fan favorite was T’challa’s little sister, Shuri, who at only 16 years old, has already excelled in work as an inventor.
Using vibranium, which can be found all over Wakanda, she has created weapons, vehicles, and countless other inventions that help with all aspects of life. She helped to heal Everett Ross in just a day when he was shot and would have spent months recovering if he been treated anywhere else. She was also tasked with erasing all of the Hydra brainwashing from Bucky Barnes’ head, and replacing his vibranium arm.
Shuri has excelled with inventions of all types while only being a teenager. Who knows what she’ll accomplish by the time she reaches adulthood.
Hopefully, we’ll get to see some of these great minds work together to stop Thanos and the Black Order in Avengers: Infinity War, which premieres on April 27th, 2018.