The Marvel Cinematic Universe (or the MCU for short) has been going strong for more than a decade now, with each movie only seeming to raise the overall creativeness and scope of the galaxy around our heroes. Each of them brings their own fantastical aspect to the game, giving audiences one of the most varied and visually interesting groups of heroes that the world of fiction has ever seen. But no great idea springs from the mind complete and ready. Instead, it takes lots of work and creativity to really bring these roles to life, and that means that along the way there are going to be plenty of hiccups here and there. But some of those hiccups and early concept ideas actually had something that the eventual finished product didn’t, and we’re a little bummed out by that.
Seriously, some of the concept art for the Marvel films provide way cooler looks for some of our favorite heroes and villains. Some of the pieces bring new life to otherwise forgettable villains. Others really draw on the comic influence and try to give each hero a bit more individuality within their appearance. And some of these pictures of concept art are just so cool that we’re mad on the principle that we didn’t get to see them in action. Here are fifteen of the best pieces of MCU concept art that we wished had made it into the movies themselves.
Nebula has turned out to be one of the more fascinating characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and no one is more surprised than us. At first sight, we thought she was just a throwaway villain, but Karen Gillen has given the cyborg assassin and sister to Gamora a sincere level of depth and sadness that makes us love the violent little nutbag, despite her flaws. Marvel concept artist Andy Park (and get ready to see that name a lot because many of these designs are his) was tasked with bringing the character to life, and his original idea would have leaned more into the eventual story the MCU has told with her. In this original version, she’s even more robotic than she appears in the films.
Her eye especially isn’t as meshed with her skin as the eventual version we saw in Guardians of the Galaxy, appearing much more robotic and foreign in that design. And while we can understand why this version was dropped (a mixture of being too difficult for production and to minimize the physical similarity to DC’s Cyborg, we imagine), we also like how it really lays her artificial nature on the table, meaning her scenes with Gamora where she remembers their horrific childhood would have been even more heartfelt.
14 Baron Strucker
One of the most consistent complaints of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been the overall ratio of good villains to bad villains. And sure, the argument can be made that the most recent films have been improving on that, but that still doesn’t excuse the more forgettable baddies that populated the second phase of the MCU. Just look at Baron Strucker, who was the baddie of Avengers: Age of Ultron for about five minutes. The character is a major villain in the comics; a diabolical fanatic who’s not afraid to get into battle himself. He also usually wields a robotic gauntlet that he can use to beat down even super-powered enemies, which was removed from the film.
This isn’t meant to sound like a nerd rant, but the character falls down too quickly to be anything but pathetic in the film. We get that’s kind of the point, but it would still have been cool to see Strucker being a threat on the battlefield before he went down. Someone at Marvel certainly thought so too, since at one point Strucker was outfitted with his gauntlet. It’s an interesting development of the “people trying to rip off Iron Man” thread that was introduced early in the MCU and then apparently dropped, and this would have been a logical next step for that story. It could have even helped scare Tony more into trying to make Ultron and make the decision less based on a Scarlet Witch head trip.
13 Baron Zemo
So, this is one of the most interesting changes to keep in mind with Captain America: Civil War. While the movie was in early development, the writers didn’t know if Robert Downey Jr. would appear as Iron Man or not. So, the creators of the film worked on multiple versions of the story, including one that could continue on even without Iron Man. That movie would have been completely different and would have had a much tighter focus on Captain America and his allies (Falcon, Black Widow and Sharon Carter) and their hunt for Bucky.
In that version of the story, the villains were also more of a big deal.
The infighting that eventually defined the third Captain America movie wasn’t nearly as pronounced without Iron Man there to stir the pot. To that end, Baron Zemo even had a more villainous design and would have played a more hands-on role in trying to bring down the Avengers. The costume actually does a good job of incorporating his (frankly ridiculous) comic book design and making it feel like it works in the real world. And the fur lining in his jacket just looks so cool! While we like the Zemo we got (a surprisingly sympathetic Chessmaster with a good reason to hate the heroes), we still missed out on a crazy cool costume.
We still bemoan the loss of the Edgar Wright Ant-Man movie, which never came to pass, thanks to some serious interference from early Marvel Studios. But the movie we did eventually get, starring Paul Rudd as the titular Ant-Man, was a solid if workmanlike film. His costume design was fun, giving him enough individuality to stand apart from all the other characters we’ve essentially seen in robot suits over the years of the MCU (which is a lot, as it turns out). But the costume was almost different and even more ant-like, which could have completed that idea more effectively.
Seen here are two different designs for the costume worn by Scott Lang. While we aren’t crazy about the black suit (just because that gets real boring real fast), we do want to draw attention to the eyes on the other alternative. It incorporates the red that serves as his signature color scheme, and we love that helmet. It’s alien enough to stand out amongst the other suits and gives him a distinctly “ant” look to fit with his overall power scheme and aesthetic. You sacrifice some of the character (Rudd’s panicky eyes doing a lot of heavy lifting in the film), but it’s still a cool costume.
11 Black Panther
Look at that man. Look at him! That is pure, unadulterated cool Black Panther right there. And we were this close to getting that variation of the suit in the film. This alternate costume idea is closer to the comics version of the character, who treats his suit as more of a ceremonial heirloom than his movie counterpart, who primarily uses his suit to enhance his abilities. And yes, the movie suit is really cool and distinctive and plays with a color pallet that is otherwise underutilized by superhero characters (the more purple we see, the happier we are).
But this design reflects the regalia of the character much clearer and, as a result, makes him more royal looking.
His jewels are more pronounced in this version, as is a utility belt that feels closer to Batman than it probably wanted to. And given the cape, we can see why that would probably keep people from wanting to give Black Panther this look. But we absolutely love the cape, if we’re being honest. It gives him such a bigger outline, and it keeps the majesty inherent to the character out front in his costume. We love seeing cool characters just rocking amazing capes, is what we’re saying, and we want to see it more.
Rocket is a perfect example of the sheer range that superhero universes can showcase. The Guardians of the Galaxy were a fascinating window into the sheer absurdity of the Marvel universe in the best way possible. Seriously, the Han Solo of the movie is a walking and talking raccoon and we love everything about that. But in one of the earlier designs, they clearly didn’t want to go full raccoon with it. This version of the character feels less like a Marvel character in this design and much closer to a Star Wars freedom fighter. Like, he looks more like an old friend of Chewbacca who shows up to fight Stormtroopers than anyone in the Marvel universe.
And while it is a pretty cool design overall, it’s an overly alien design that wouldn’t work with the smaller scale Marvel universe. The Marvel universe is so bonkers that a raccoon who’s been modified to talk and shoot at aliens with his tree god best friend makes more sense than just an overly extraterrestrial creature. And seriously, that is one of our absolute favorite parts of the Marvel cinematic universe. It’s a universe where anything can happen, and anything can show up to save the day.
For a character who has one of the most famous superhero designs in the entire world, there are actually lots of variants of the Spider-Man costume. The character has gone through plenty of changes over the years, with even different characters inhabiting the role. So it’s not surprising that the creators behind the MCU considered their options while trying to decide on which version of the character we were given on screen. As shown here, the costume was originally intended to pay a lot more attention to the spider insignia on his chest across all of the alternatives, instead of the more minuscule one that ended up on his costume.
Interestingly, they also considered a version of the costume that removed the iconic blue and instead relied on red and black.
It’s a more sinister looking Spider-Man because it was directly inspired by the Superior Spider-Man, an arc of the comics where the character is taken over by Doctor Octopus and becomes a much more brutal anti-hero. And while it looks cool, we love the blue too much to ever want to see it completely gone. And to be honest, we also don’t want the goggle eyes these costumes have since we way prefer the eyes on the eventual suit we got. The changing white eyes give Spider-Man so much cartoonish personality that’s charming and personable.
Mantis is one of the more overtly alien figures in the Marvel universe introduced so far. Instead of just being an alternate color that we don’t usually see in nature, Mantis is a more insectoid figure within the Marvel universe, which the costume designers of the film brought to life with some real skill by drawing attention to her bug-like eyes and poking antenna. But she could have been even more alien like if the creators of the series had gone with this alternate design to the character. She’s covered in lines that make her otherworldly and more distinctly alien than even her eventual design would become.
Her antenna is likewise more defined and cockroach-esque, which makes her stand out more amongst the humanoid heroes that the movies are more centralized on. It’s understandable why the crew didn’t keep this design as their main look for the movies (just the complications of applying that every day would have been exhausting). But it would have made the empath stand out even more in otherwise crowded scenes, which would have been nice to see during the otherwise crowded events of Avengers: Infinity War. But we still like the design we got, even if it could have been cooler.
Of all the Avengers, Hawkeye is probably the least visually interesting. He’s designed more as a spy than a superhero, which makes his costume probably the most boring of the original Avengers. Even Black Widow at least has her cool suit and her bright red hair to break up the color scheme. While we know that one of his next changes in the upcoming Avengers 4 will see the character embrace a new costume and identity, it’s interesting to consider how much different Hawkeye almost looked instead of just being bow and arrow guy.
The creators of the MCU Seriously considered having the character adopt a face-covering mask and red visor for his role in Captain America: Civil War.
It would have leaned further into the purple color choice that’s associated with the character (seriously, more purple Marvel!). This would have helped in making this character stand out more in the group shots. particularly since he's already shunted off to the side to make way for big-name heroes like Iron Man and the Hulk. The costume makes him more unique than just being the random arrow guy who is trying to help out Thor for some reason that doesn’t make any sense.
When Hulk ended up heading off the planet at the end of the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron, he went completely off the grid and lost contact with the rest of the heroes. And when that happened, the MCU creators had trouble figuring out how to best display his character arc and change just in his appearance. While they eventually settled on a more straightforward look for the character (where he’s mostly just been the Hulk for a while and gotten used to it), the creators originally considered giving him more of an obvious physical change thanks to the addition of some facial hair.
It’s not unheard of to see that kind of look on the Hulk (who has often shown up on alien worlds or in different time periods) sporting a big beard. And it’s really cool to see that the creators behind the various movies were considering bringing that to the movies to help sell just how long the character has been off the grid and removed from the rest of the universe. It could have looked ridiculous, but it would have also been a cool take on the basic Hulk look and interesting to see in action.
Contrary to what the Marvel cinematic universe implies with the overall police corps idea that was presented in Guardians of the Galaxy, here’s the thing: the comics Nova Corp doesn’t look anything like the versions that appear in the movie. See, the only real similarity is in their overall symbol. But the instead of flying thanks to spaceships modeled after their logos, the Nova Corp all actually just have flight abilities themselves. The Nova suits that they all get proves to be incredibly useful even beyond the flight powers, giving them advanced strength and endurance enough to tank a hit from the Hulk.
The Nova Corp representatives on Earth, Richard Rider and Sam Alexander, are both incredibly strong allies to the Avengers in the comics.
They're full on on members of that team and the Guardians of the Galaxy. In the early stages of development, Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn even considered having Richard Rider in the film, eventually dropping him in lieu of putting more focus on Peter Quill. But it’s interesting to see how the designers considered bringing the hero to life, really drawing on the alien suit of armor and weaponry to reinforce the design. It’s a cool look, and one that we hope shows up at least at some point in the movies, especially now that the Nova organization on large as been reduced by Thanos. It’d be cool to see this Nova show up to try and help.
The Hulkbuster was arguably the best part of Avengers: Age of Ultron. The reveal of the suit designed to fight the Hulk to a standstill was incredibly cool, incorporating the overall Iron Man armor aesthetic and look and is as big as Hulk. But at least at one point, the suit was considered to be an even bigger deal and brawler than the one we eventually got in the film. In fact, looking at this concept art can be shocking just how massive and impressive it is in comparison to the kind of armor Stark ended up having by the conclusion of the actual production. Just look at that thing!
It’s straight up massive, even towering over the already pretty gigantic Hulk. It also drops the color scheme that usually comes with the various Iron Man armors, instead just forming a grey monstrous suit to surround Tony Stark as he gets into a city-wrecking fist fight that pretty much destroys the team's credibility around the world. And while we really love how the Hulkbuster eventually came out in the movies (because come on, it’s a giant Iron Man suit for his Iron Man suit), how cool would have been to see this monstrosity on screen?!
3 Scarlet Witch
Scarlet Witch is kind of a mixed bag for the MCU. She’s potentially one of the most powerful members of the team, with powers operating on a scale that most of the heroes can’t even dream of matching. But on the other hand, she’s also proven to be more reluctant to use her abilities than most of her allies. That’s fair, considering how her actions are what got civilians killed during the events of Captain America: Civil War and all.
But she’s also got one of the most drab costume selections of the team, with her look generally feeling more like a rocker who likes red and black.
For comparison, look at this design from the concept art for the character. Her colors are still the same, but her overall look lends itself to super heroics so much better than the more pedestrian look. And we really appreciate the way the power is bleeding out of her eyes, instead of just tinting them crimson. The concept art even tried to find a way to incorporate her classic comic headpiece, one of the most iconic weirdo costume choices in Marvel comics. And even for just trying that, we have to give them some real props.
2 Captain America
It’s hard to imagine now that we live in an era where even the most obscure and bizarre aspect of the Marvel universe (looking at you, Ego the Living Planet) can make it into a huge blockbuster film, but at one point and time the full on super heroics were considered too ridiculous to really bring to the big screen. Just look at this alternative concept for Captain America. Ryan Meinerding (a concept artist for Marvel whose other work has also been featured in this list) shared some of his alternate ideas for Steve Rogers, and it makes for an interesting counterpoint to his purposefully bright and colorful costume that he ended up in Captain America: The First Avenger.
The costume is almost defined by its simplicity, portraying Steve Rogers as more of a straight forward soldier than the bright and spangled symbol of his country that he would end up becoming. The bomber jacket with a flag imprint makes for a cool look on the character, but we do think that his bombastic spandex fits better with the overall innocence of the character and the message of the film. Still, it’s fun to imagine a world where the costumes were more grounded like this one, at least for a single film.
We saved our favorite for last because we love Dormammu. The galactic conqueror is one of the biggest threats to the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, with Dr. Strange barely being able to fight back his cancerous influence on the universe by utilizing the time stone to trap the two of them in an endless loop. The character (originally a giant flame-headed demon in the comics) was redesigned to fit with the overall trippy look of the film as a whole, his face morphing on top of itself constantly.
But in the original concept art for the character, it was a more defined, monstrous and terrifying figure.
He’s more of a force of nature than just a demon lord, but the face also gives him more range of emotions while still making it otherworldly and horrifying. We really love the little touches too, like his body forming the other elements of the cosmos that he is inhabiting, giving him a new level of scope that’s would be fascinating to see in a movie. This piece speaks to the powerful and imposing designs that the movies didn’t end up going with, and is a good indicator of the sheer level of artistry and consideration being put into these films.
References: Geekyrant.com, Pinterest.co.uk, ScreenRant.com, CBR.com, Pinterest.co.uk, Pinterest.com, MovieWeb.com, Comicbook.com, Pinterest.com, SuperBroMovies.com, Wikia.com, Wikia.com, GeekTyrant.com, RyanMeinerding.artstation.com, ComicBook.com