Marvel Cinematic Universe characters: Phase One heroes ranked by strength

Here's a question: who is the most powerful hero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU)? It's one that you may have asked yourself while revisiting the franchise in lockdown, and it's also been on our minds.

Starting with Phase One of the MCU (so, Iron Man to Avengers Assemble), here's our ranking of the franchise's heroes, based on their strengths and weaknesses. Will your favourite Marvel character come out on top? Scroll down to find out.

7. Hawkeye

Abilities He rivals Kevin Costner in the bow and arrow stakes

Weaknesses Take the bow away and he doesn't have a lot going for him

As played by Jeremy Renner, Hawkeye's MCU introduction left something to be desired. He was teased in 2011's Thor and stepped up to the plate in 2012's Avengers Assemble. However, within the first five minutes of that movie, he was promptly brainwashed by Loki (Tom Hiddleston), later compelling Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) to save him.

Even so, Hawkeye is somewhat redeemed by the end of Avengers Assemble with his awesome explosive arrows. These play an important role in helping to bring down the invading Chitauri forces during the battle of New York.

6. Nick Fury

Abilities He has the whole of S.H.I.E.L.D. at his disposal

Weaknesses He's more of a talker than a fighter

Samuel L. Jackson's eyepatch-sporting S.H.I.E.L.D. chief was first seen at the end of 2008's Iron Man. He recruits Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) to be part of the Avengers initiative, and Fury's calm sense of authority is immediately apparent.

But while he can easily get others to do his bidding, Fury is more of an operational/strategic figurehead who doesn't rely on physical strength. Nor is he blessed with magical powers or abilities – instead, it's his job to harness those individuals, rather than fight alongside them.

5. Black Widow

Abilities Crafty psychological manipulation and fighting skills that go hand in hand

Weaknesses She's lacks the advantage of her many armoured/superpowered colleagues

First introduced in 2010's Iron Man 2, mysterious operative Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow quickly asserts herself. This becomes apparent in the amusing hallway fight sequence where she takes out a dozen goons to Happy Hogan's (Jon Favreau) one.

Mixed in with these martial arts abilities are savvy mind tricks. In Avengers Assemble, Natasha makes the evil Loki think he has exposed her weakness (her relationship with Hawkeye) – but, in fact, she has gleaned his plan to exploit Hulk's (Mark Ruffalo) terrifyingly destructive strength. No doubt her training in this area will be further explored in 2020's Black Widow movie.

4. Iron Man

Abilities Quick wit combined with unadulterated wealth and technological prowess

Weaknesses He's arrogant and, without the suit, ultimately just a man

The godfather of the MCU franchise, Tony Stark is a brash, likeable whirlwind, and a man who can think on his feet in a crisis. Of course, it helps to have billions of dollars at one's disposal. In fact, one could accuse Tony of not amounting to very much without his wealth, and the assorted technology that comes with it. (Captain America says just such a thing, in fact.)

Nevertheless, Robert Downey Jr.'s quick-witted hero is responsible for building those suits in the first place. That takes bravado and cunning, and for all the fleshy weaknesses of the man underneath, the Iron Man armour has ultimately saved the day in many an MCU battle. This is most apparent when he launches a nuclear bomb through a wormhole to destroy the Chitauri in Avengers Assemble.

3. Captain America

Abilities Superhuman strength and endurance

Weakness He's not invulnerable and is bound by human frailties like ageing 

Chris Evans' noble super-soldier Steve Rogers is the antithesis of the smirking, sarcastic Tony Stark. Initially a scrawny, plucky underdog who is refused enlistment for World War II, Rogers has the bravery to enter an experimental programme. When he's injected with a serum, he becomes Captain America, replete with bigger biceps and abs, but always underpinned with that sense of wholesome decency.

Rogers' strength becomes a cornerstone of the Avengers initiative, as do his military tactics. However, his intractable nature leads to problems later in the MCU franchise and, as Tony points out (not incorrectly), "Everything special about you came from a bottle".

2. Hulk

Abilities He can smash things – a lot

Weaknesses Erratic use of super-strength that must be coaxed into the open only on certain occasions

When he's let off the leash, no other Avenger matches the feral rage or destructive abilities of the Hulk. That's what comes with being a conscience-free, rampaging green rage monster – but Hulk's abilities come at a price.

Played by Edward Norton in 2008's The Incredible Hulk, and Mark Ruffalo thereafter, the jolly green giant is actually meek scientist Bruce Banner. Impressive as Hulk is, Banner's alter-ego has to be judiciously employed, lest there be widespread carnage all over the place. The effectiveness of Hulk also resides in Banner recognising his own human weaknesses. As he explains in Avengers Assemble: "I'm always angry."

1. Thor

Abilities He's a God

Weaknesses He's headstrong and can do with a dose of humility

What could possibly be stronger than a Norse God? The mighty Thor comes from the planet of Asgard, located in a distant realm that's connected by a portal known as the Bifrost. With his lightning-inducing hammer Mjolnir, Thor brings spectacle and brute strength to the party. But, as always, there's a downside to the impressive showmanship.

In his debut movie, Thor is banished to Earth and stripped of his powers by his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins). It shows that for all one's strength, a little education and humility goes a long way. In fact, those qualities are often the most powerful, as Thor learns to save Earth and his new love interest Jane Foster (Natalie Portman).

Do you agree with our ranking of Marvel Phase One heroes? Let us know @Cineworld and keep your eyes peeled to the blog for our Phase Two round-up.