Marvel has been quietly building a new team in the MCU – and they couldn’t be further away from the Avengers. Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (or Val for short) has benn rounding up some of Marvel’s most morally gray anti-heroes and reformed villains in preparation for… something. At San Diego Comic-Con, we discovered her endgame: a new Thunderbolts movie in 2024.
In the comics, the Thunderbolts operate as a collection of vigilantes and mercenaries that get their hands dirty with classified wetwork, crossing the line that heroes do not cross. We can expect the MCU’s team to follow that path (think The Suicide Squad, with similarly volatile results), but its lineup – which has fluctuated in the comics – isn’t set in stone.
Below, we’ll run the rule over those likely to appear in director Jake Schreier’s intriguing big-screen adventure: the fan favorites, surprise returning names, and even one or two MCU newcomers. These aren’t the Avengers. Not even close. These are the Thunderbolts. And we can’t wait to see what sort of dirty tricks they’ll get up to once they’ve assembled.
Florence Pugh’s Yelena is, for all intents and purposes, the MCU’s new Black Widow. Natasha’s sister-in-arms debuted to rave reviews in the standalone Black Widow movie, while she was also a constant thorn in Kate Bishop’s side in Hawkeye.
It’s her potted history with Val that points towards her leading the Thunderbolts in the field, however. They first met on-screen in the Black Widow post-credits scene, but they clearly had an unseen history given the chemistry between the pair. Yelena botched her assignment to take out Hawkeye, but Val will likely come calling again in the near future if a bigger threat (or mission) emerges.
The first time we saw Val, she was pitching John Walker (Wyatt Russell) a new moniker – US Agent – and perhaps a new purpose in Falcon and The Winter Soldier.
Thunderbolts already has its Black Widow replacement with Yelena, and it stands to reason that a Captain America-shaped hole will be filled by Walker. Expect him and Yelena to co-lead the team. They’re the two definite standouts at this early stage.
How do you make a superteam filled with egos and alphas even more combustible? Insert a certain Helmut Zemo into the mix, that’s how.
Daniel Bruhl’s scheming villain may have found himself imprisoned on The Raft after tidying up the Flag Smasher mess in Falcon and The Winter Soldier, but springing the one-time Civil War instigator from prison shouldn’t be a problem for Val. As part of the Thunderbolts, he can bring his intimate set of smarts and forward-thinking that brought the Avengers to their knees.
If the Thunderbolts are in need of a more physical presence for a hard-hitting job, they should look no further than Taskmaster.
The masked muscle for Black Widow villain Dreykov was revealed to be none other than his daughter, Antonia (Olga Kurylenko). While Nat helped free her from being controlled by the Red Room, her future may still align with those who work from the shadows. Her skillset, being able to mimic any fighting style, including those of the Avengers, will surely come in handy.
Ghost could certainly stake a claim for being the MCU’s most forgotten character. She appeared as a phase-shifting antagonist in Ant-Man and the Wasp where it seemed she was being set up for future appearances down the line. Since then: radio silence.
As a Thunderbolts member, she would carry the right mix of tragic backstory and lack of morals to get the job done by any means necessary. She’s probably high on Val’s draft board, and could come out from the cold in the MCU after years away.
Tim Roth’s Abomination is returning in She-Hulk, marking a surprise do-over for the villain who debuted in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk villain and has so-far only returned once, in a brief cameo in Shang-Chi. The monstrous enemy of the Jade Giant has seemingly got a handle on his transformations, which could prove useful in the hands of someone like Val.
The Thunderbolts could be getting set up as a dark mirror to the Avengers. If that’s the case, they need a Hulk. With Jennifer Walters and Bruce Banner likely in no-go territory, Abomination is the only one with unscrupulous morals to get the job done with no questions asked. Maybe he’ll have his prison sentence commuted if he lends a big green hand to help the Thunderbolts.
Thunderbolts will need a deep roster with a whole host of talents for it to work. Echo’s proficiency with hand-to-hand and weapon-based combat makes her stand out from a particularly packed crowd of anti-heroes. Alaqua Cox’s vigilante is fronting her own series in 2023, which would build her up nicely for a big-screen turn in Thunderbolts.
Thunderbolts is the perfect opportunity to help tie up some characters’ loose ends, such as White Vision. The last time we saw SWORD’s Frankenstein creation, he had just fought in a battle of wits with the a version of Vision created by Wanda in Westview.
After regaining Vision’s memories in the WandaVision finale, he declared “I Am Vision.” White Vision, then, is looking for some purpose and meaning after his twisted rebirth. He would certainly be the strongest member of the Thunderbolts, but could Val tempt him back into the fold?
Despite a potential Thunderbolts lineup being filled with up-and-coming Marvel talent, there’s a gnawing feeling that it could do with a little more big box office spark. Step forward Oscar Isaac, who left us spellbound with his mind-bending turn as Khonshu’s Avatar Steven Grant/Marc Spector/Jake Lockley in Moon Knight.
His multiple personalities would surely bounce off some of Thunderbolts’ more talkative members, while his more aggressive side could be the blunt weapon the group needs to get the job done.
Charlie Cox and Vincent D’Onofrio came in from the cold and reprised their roles as Daredevil and Kingpin from Marvel’s Netflix series. Can Jon Bernthal’s Punisher do the same? Spring 2024 sees Daredevil: Born Again air on Disney Plus, which could be a tidy way to bring The Punisher into the MCU before bringing out the big guns in Thunderbolts.
In the comics, General ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross helped usher in a new age of Thunderbolts. While the MCU’s General Ross actor William Hurt passed away in early 2022, the Thunderbolts movie could offer a way to either recast the role or present a younger version of the character in flashbacks. If it’s the latter, we could discover more about how the Thunderbolts program came to life in the MCU, and why Val is the one currently heading it up.
Who else could join the Thunderbolts? Deadpool, Hawkeye, and The Winter Soldier
Thunderbolts’ comic run is filled with several members who came and went over the years. While they might not be as realistic fits as those above, we wouldn’t be surprised to see crossover with the likes of Hawkeye – who has a significant comic history with the group – or Deadpool, who has also joined the team. Sebastian Stan’s The Winter Soldier could turn up next in Captain America: New World Order, but feels like the perfect fit for the espionage-heavy, behind-closed-doors nature of the Thunderbolts. Similarly, Daredevil rival Bullseye could hit the mark. He offers up another way of squeezing in more of The Man Without Fear’s rogues’ gallery, especially given Marvel’s big plans for Daredevil.
Thunderbolts is set for release on July 26, 2024. For more from the MCU's exciting future, here's our complete guide to upcoming Marvel movies.