Robert Downey Jr. and Andrew McCarthy in Less Than Zero

Marvel’s Avengers Cast but If They Were All ’80s Heartthrobs

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Ever think about the Marvel Cinematic Universe and what it would have been like in a different era? I do! Especially when I watch movies like Less Than Zero and see Robert Downey Jr. squaring off with James Spader. Thus, this idea was born. Thriving in my love of ’80s movies and my extensive knowledge of actors from the time period, I have compiled a list of who would have definitely been at least considered for these roles, if not cast them as such, had the ’80s had the willpower and capability to make Iron Man happen.

As I began to come up with my list of who the Avengers would have been in the ’80s, I realized that it was essentially the young Avengers, since they were all in their early 20s, but I don’t care. Give me the very young Avengers and Danny Glover running around. It would have been perfect. So come on this journey to the past with me, enjoy, and prepare to be like, “Oh my god, what are you thinking?” about 90% of my casting choices.

Andrew McCarthy as Steve Rogers

Weekend at Bernie's

Captain America is a good boy who always wanted to do right by his country, so why not have the good boy of the ’80s take on the Steve Rogers role? That’s right, I’m talking about Andrew McCarthy—you know, the guy we all had a crush on when we watched Pretty in Pink? Him.

Now, maybe it’s because of Less Than Zero, but I think the tumultuous relationship of the Avengers leaders would be perfect with McCarthy’s cap opposite none other than Tony Stark himself, Robert Downey Jr.

Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark

RDJ in Less Than Zero

I don’t care what era you’re casting it in, the choice would always be Robert Downey Jr. because who else could pull it off? Give me the Demon in a Bottle storyline with ’80s-era Downey, and I’m living my best life. Still a rising star in the ’80s, Downey was making a name for himself and shocking people with his ability to play Julian in Less Than Zero. (His real-life abuse of alcohol and drugs was not a well-known factoid back in the day.) So, pairing him up with his onscreen best friend Andrew McCarthy? I need it, and I need it now.

To be the most ’80s of ’80s movies, the brainwashed soldier that Andrew McCarthy would fight for no matter the cost, who killed Robert Downey Jr.’s mom?

Judd Nelson as Bucky Barnes

Judd Nelson in the Breakfast Club

A bad boy if there ever was one, Judd Nelson in The Breakfast Club helped to confirm that many of us would always choose the criminal over the jock. So, is it a surprise that he’d be Bucky Barnes? Not in the slightest. Bucky, who was a ladies’ man before being brainwashed, always had a bad boy way to him, and also, Judd Nelson was the long-haired ruffian of the ’80s, so it’s like this casting decision made itself.

No superhero would be complete, however, without their assistant-turned-wife-turned-Rescue, so who would our Tony Stark fall in love with?

Molly Ringwald as Pepper Potts

Molly Ringwald in the Breakfast Club.

The ginger love of the ’80s would be perfect even if she wasn’t already in a movie where she was in love with Robert Downey Jr., but Molly Ringwald was everyone’s best friend, love interest, and favorite starlet, so casting her as Pepper Potts would have been nearly as easy as Steve Rogers and Tony Stark. At least in this fictional casting, I have GIF content that almost perfectly matches the Tony Stark/Pepper Potts dynamic of Iron Man 3, anyway.


Arsenio Hall as Sam Wilson

Arsenio Hall in Coming to America

Sam Wilson has always been the funny and quick-witted friend of Steve Rogers, and in the ’80s, who was funnier than Arsenio Hall? (Probably Eddie Murphy, but more on him later.) So while we never saw Andrew McCarthy and Arsenio Hall standing side by side in a movie, the two of them taking on Cap and Falcon would have certainly been an interesting dynamic—one that would probably make little sense, but guess what, who cares? It’s Arsenio Hall! I’d believe it.

Moving right along, there must always be the Maximoff twins.

Ally Sheedy as Wanda Maximoff

Ally Sheedy in the Breakfast Club

Playing a character that many of us loved in The Breakfast Club, Ally Sheedy mastered the art of internalizing problems and hiding away from the world. Who better to portray Wanda Maximoff, then? Obviously, the ’80s version of Wanda would be different than the millennial-esque Wanda we have in Marvel’s movies today, but wouldn’t that be the point for each decade?

Wanda, while the only twin still alive, loved no one more than she loved her dear brother Pietro.

Anthony Michael Hall as Pietro Maximoff 

anthony michael hall in the breakfast club

To be quite honest, I had forgotten to even include Pietro Maximoff on my list, and then felt bad that Anthony Michael Hall didn’t have a place, and thus this casting choice was born. It also makes sense, because Anthony Michael Hall was the nerdy smart-ass of the 1980s, so he’d fit in as Quicksilver pretty well.

You know wants to look out for Wanda, though, especially since her brother died?

Emilio Estevez as Clint Barton

Emilio Estevez in the Breakfast Club

The brother of Charlie Sheen (yeah, that’s a whole ’80s thing, Google it), Emilio Estevez was the pinnacle of “breaking the typecast.” Very often the jock who hated that he was that role, Estevez, like Clint Barton, had so much to give to the world in ways we’d never expect. So yeah, I think he’d make a pretty good Hawkeye.

Then, we fill Paul Rudd’s role with another actor famous for not aging.

Tom Cruise as Scott Lang

Tom Cruise in Risky Business

To be honest, I don’t like Tom Cruise that much. We have our disagreements. That being said, I can appreciate a Cruise movie—Risky Business being one of them—but one thing about ’80s Tom Cruise is that he was extremely charming, bringing characters to life in a way that made you fall in love with them, and that would be the kind of energy they would need for Scott Lang.

And now, to make myself cry.

River Phoenix as Peter Parker

River Phoenix in Indiana Jones

Look, if you don’t know the sad reality of River Phoenix, I don’t really want to get into it, but much like many of our favorite actors from the ’80s, River Phoenix lost himself to drugs before unfortunately meeting an untimely death at the Viper Room in 1993. But in the ’80s, when Phoenix was becoming one of the biggest names in Hollywood, he was personable, fun, and a talent that no one had really seen before.

So, casting him as Peter Parker would be an easy choice because Peter’s life isn’t exactly happy all the time. Sure, he hides behind his excitement, but we can’t forget that Peter Parker’s parents died, he watched his Uncle Ben get killed, and then watched his girlfriend die. And if this is the ’80s version of Spider-Man, we’d probably get a darker Parker anyway.

No set of Avengers would be complete without the Black Widow herself, Natasha Romanoff.

Michelle Pfeiffer as Natasha Romanoff

Michelle Pfeiffer in Scarface

Did I clap myself on the back for this one? You bet your ass I did. Michelle Pfeiffer is who I would deem the epitome of the “sex symbol”—mainly because while, yes, many sexualize her, she is also the kind of woman we all aspire to be. Strong, poised, using her sexual prowess to her advantage, Pfeiffer has never gone out of style. (And she’s in the real MCU, too!) So yeah, she’d be Nat, and she’d be just as hot as she is now, and she’d use that to get the information she needs to help the Avengers, and I’d be here for it all.

From one wealthy African prince to another, we have Black Panther.

Eddie Murphy as T’Challa

Eddie Murphy in Coming to America

Oh come on, I’m not explaining this. Go watch Coming to America. This is perfect.

But you know who I do have to explain?

Patrick Dempsey as Vision

Patrick Dempsey in Can't Buy Me Love

I mainly did this because Patrick Dempsey was the hot nerd of the 1980s, and having him cast as a computer-turned-superhero is peak ’80s sci-fi genre. But then again, I think listening to Patrick Dempsey voice JARVIS before he becomes Vision would almost be worth the buildup to seeing Patrick Dempsey painted red.

While Tony Stark needs his JARVIS, he also needs his Rhodey.

Blair Underwood as James “Rhodey” Rhodes

Blair Underwood in Krush Groove

Blair Underwood as Robert Downey Jr.’s best friend from MIT already sounds like an ’80s movie, so why not just make it into the perfect friendship that is Rhodey and Tony in the MCU? Two friends who rely on each other (probably too much), the two clearly have been through it all, but they’ve done it together, and honestly, 1980s Blair Underwood would be perfect for Rhodey.

The Avengers, however, can’t all be from Earth.

Kiefer Sutherland as Thor

keifer sutherland in lost boys

Again, it is the ’80s. Who had a 6-pack like Chris Hemsworth in the 80s? Probably no one, but who could bring to life the humor and the pain of Thor? Definitely Kiefer Sutherland. Star of The Lost Boys, Sutherland was a heartthrob and the kind of actor that you didn’t even realize you were in love with—so, honestly, a perfect casting choice for Thor.

But Thor needs a brother …

Willem Dafoe as Loki

willem dafoe in to live and die in la

I’m not going to explain this and I shouldn’t have to! It’s perfect! You’re welcome!

Thor and Loki are the Asgardians doing the most, but they’re not alone. They have some earthling friends.

Michael J. Fox as Bruce Banner

michael j. fox in back to the future

Marty McFly gave us Alex P. Keaton traveling through time, and honestly, there were enough references to Back to the Future in Avengers: Endgame that this just seems like a perfectly ’80s casting choice, obviously, in retrospect, but also because Michael J. Fox was the fun nerdy guy who could also play the seriousness of a scene that would be necessary for Bruce Banner, and now I want nothing more than to see Michael J. Fox painted green.

Because he’s immortal, why wouldn’t Keanu Reeves be the time wizard?

Keanu Reeves as Stephen Strange

I’m 90% sure this is everyone’s casting preference, even for the current MCU, but honestly, why isn’t Keanu Reeves Stephen Strange? He’d be Dr. Strange in the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, ’00s, ’10s, back in the medieval times … probably during the renaissance too. He’s probably depicted in cave drawings as a sorcerer with a green stone. Basically, the immortal Keanu Reeves should always have been Stephen Strange, and that is that.

The Avengers and their newest friends, the Guardians of the Galaxy, have to bring in the space side of things.

Ethan Hawke as Peter Quill

ethan hawke in dead poets society

Ethan Hawke was the ’80s and ’90s. I guess you could argue he’s still extremely popular, but now his daughter, Maya Hawke, is taking over. That being said, Hawke as Peter Quill? Yes please, sign me up; I’d probably like him a lot more than I like Chris Pratt’s Peter.

Peter, though, will always love Gamora.

Sigourney Weaver as Gamora

sigourney weaver in ghostbusters

Sigourney Weaver was, arguably, the biggest action star of the ’80s (sorry Arnold) and had an ability to bring to life a character throughout her fight scenes that would be perfect for Gamora. And also, a green Sigourney Weaver just seems like a fun time for us all.

Where there is a Gamora, there is a Nebula.

Demi Moore as Nebula

demi moore in ghost

The thing about Nebula is that she’s the kind of character who is complicated and has layers to her that can be conveyed easily, through one glance. No one is better at that than Demi Moore. The G.I. Jane actress was always the kind of performer who let you know everything happening with just one look and, covered in blue make-up, she’d bring Nebula to life in a heartbreaking way.

Now, to the best character in maybe the entire MCU.

John Cusack as Rocket Raccoon

john cusack in say anything

Sure, Bradley Cooper as Rocket Raccoon isn’t really recognizable unless you know who it is, but also, John Cusack’s voice would be perfect because who doesn’t know what John Cusack sounds like? A bumbling Rocket, talking fast and trying to get all his thoughts out in one run-on sentence? I’m here for it.

The Guardians, of course, need their muscle.

Andre the Giant as Drax

andre the giant in the princess bride

When Andre the Giant took to the stage when he was wrestling, you wanted him to thrive. The same goes for Drax, so … pretty easy casting, right? Also who else could even attempt to play this part back then?

But you know who is the best among the Guardians?

Joan Chen as Mantis

joan chen in twin peaks

Mantis is the kind of character that has a way about her that intrigues us, keeps us wanting to see more of her, and also makes her dangerous to those she’s facing off against. So why not let Joan Chen bring her to life. Most famous for her work on Twin Peaks, Chen would master the art of Mantis and her powers, and honestly, it’s a disservice to us all that she’s not in everything.

But not everyone can be a hero. Sometimes, we need former agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to help the Avengers take on their foes.

Jami Gertz as Maria Hill

jami gertz in less than zero

Every Nick Fury needs his Maria Hill (or at least in the MCU, but whatever) and the perfect choice would have been Jami Gertz. What I love about the ’80 is that many of the female characters didn’t succumb to whatever their boyfriends wanted. They weren’t push-overs. Sure, it still wasn’t the best of times, but women were standing up for themselves, and I feel as if Jami Gertz would truly embody the power that Maria Hill has while working to take on the bad guys with Nick Fury.

One of those bad guys? Well …

Harrison Ford as Thanos

Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones

The never-aging and always confusing Harrison Ford probably seems like he’d be too young, right? Wrong. In the ’80s, Ford was already well into his 40s and would be a perfect casting choice for Thanos. I mean, I guess Josh Brolin was also a star in the ’80s, but he has to grow into his Thanos. I don’t want Brand from The Goonies threatening the Avengers.

And last, but certainly not least, the man behind the scenes.

Danny Glover as Nick Fury

danny glover in leathal weapon

Oh come on, do I have to explain it? Who else would you have possibly cast as Nick Fury in the ’80s? Who? No one. It’d be Danny Glover, and that is that.

The melding of my love of the ’80s and the Avengers has led to me wishing now, more than ever, that I was alive and thriving back then to pitch this franchise, but alas, I was not even a thought on my mother’s radar. Still, wouldn’t this version of the MCU be fun, fashionable, and probably a bit more drug and alcohol-induced? (It was the ’80s, after all.)

(image: 20th Century Fox)

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Rachel Leishman
Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. She's been a writer professionally since 2016 but was always obsessed with movies and television and writing about them growing up. A lover of Spider-Man and Wanda Maximoff's biggest defender, she has interests in all things nerdy and a cat named Benjamin Wyatt the cat. If you want to talk classic rock music or all things Harrison Ford, she's your girl but her interests span far and wide. Yes, she knows she looks like Florence Pugh. She has multiple podcasts, normally has opinions on any bit of pop culture, and can tell you can actors entire filmography off the top of her head. Her work at the Mary Sue often includes Star Wars, Marvel, DC, movie reviews, and interviews.