The Marvel Cinematic Universe has a wide range of female representation throughout the films. Here’s how we ranked them.
16. ‘The Incredible Hulk’
In The Incredible Hulk, the only significant female character is Betty Ross, played by Liv Tyler. While Betty is supposed to be a highly competent cellular biologist, Betty is never seen actually using her knowledge to help.
Instead, Betty exists almost completely as a device. First, she is a love interest to Bruce Banner. Second, she also exists to complicate the rift between Bruce and the antagonist, her father, Thaddeus Ross.
Betty’s only real purpose in the story is to calm the Hulk down. She does not actually have a story arc of her own, nor does she have any distinct character traits.
To make matters worse, Tyler plays Betty reciting essentially every line in a whisper, making not only her actions have little significance, but also every thing she says.
15. ‘Iron Man’
Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) is the only relevant female character in Iron Man, much the same as Betty Ross is the only one in The Incredible Hulk. However, while Tony Stark unabashedly flirts with Pepper throughout the movie, she is not yet the love interest in this film.
While Pepper is set up to be the love interest in future films, in this first one, she is only his assistant. However, Tony relies on Pepper almost as much as he relies on J.A.R.V.I.S., and he would likely not be able to function as well without her assistance.
Pepper is not very present in the film. She only appears in a handful of scenes and has no arc of her own. There are a handful of other women with speaking lines in the movie, but none of any significance.
14. ‘Iron Man 3’
The representation of women is inconsistent across the Iron Man movies. At this point in the series, Pepper is CEO of Stark Industries. However, despite her position, in Iron Man 3, her function is only as a love interest, and even worse, as a damsel in distress.
Aldrich Killian, the villain, kidnaps Pepper, and forces her into the Extremis procedure only to advance Tony’s story. Yes, Pepper does save the day in the end by killing Killian.
However, she is only able to kill him with the Extremis powers, which arguably alters her mind enough that it is not really she that kills him. She is simply used as the Deus Ex Machina to get rid of the villain.
Iron Man 3 has better representation than Iron Man because of the inclusion of another female character in Rebecca Hall’s Maya Hansen. While Maya is an incredibly talented scientist, however, she is mainly just in the movie as an obstacle for both Tony and Aldrich, before Aldrich kills her.
Iron Man 3’s ranking is particularly low on the list because of the changes to the character of Maya. Initially, she was supposed to be a major villain in the film, which would have made her the MCU’s first female villain.
However, this apparently was changed because Marvel believed that they would not receive enough sales of a female villain toy. To add salt to the wound, there is significant unnecessary sexualization of women in the Mandarin’s mansion.
13. ‘Doctor Strange’
Female representation in Doctor Strange is a bit murkier than in some of the others. The first, and least difficult, example is Rachel McAdams’s Christine Palmer. Christine is a skilled doctor who ends up saving the life of renowned surgeon Stephen Strange. Granted, Stephen is telling her what to do the entire time, but he would not have survived without her help.
The portrayal of Christine is slightly better than that of some of the others, because, unlike the other female characters in the MCU, she is not a love interest. At some point before the events of the movie, she and Stephen were in a relationship; however, during the events portrayed in the film, they are friends, even though he flirts with her.
Either way, she does not have her own story arc, and is there only to assist Stephen, even though she may become more relevant in future movies, if she becomes the Night Nurse.
The more complicated character would be Tilda Swinton’s the Ancient One. On one hand, this provides an additional role for a female actor. On the other hand, this portrayal is inherently problematic because it took away a role from an Asian actor. One does not excuse the other; however, it is debatable whether she is even portraying a female character.
It has been reported that Swinton intentionally portrayed the character as androgynous, despite the character being referred to with female pronouns. It would get far deeper into gender politics to fully unpack this character. However, casting Swinton opened an opportunity for an actress to play a character unlike any in the MCU, as a powerful mentor to the male protagonist.