A handful of characters who currently exist in the MCU meet the criteria to lead Marvel’s villain team in a Thunderbolts movie. Reportedly, Thunderbolts is one of several projects Marvel is putting into production in 2023. If this news is true, Thunderbolts could release sometime in 2024 or 2025 as a Phase 5 movie.

In Marvel Comics, the Thunderbolts are traditionally a group of imprisoned supervillains who go on missions for the government, usually in exchange for their freedom or lighter sentences. The concept is not at all unlike DC’s Suicide Squad, which has already been the subject of two DCEU movies. Thunderbolts rosters typically (but not always) consist of villains who are bad but not inherently evil, like Radioactive Man, Shocker, and Songbird. Some will only serve the Thunderbolts to advance their own selfish goals, while others may truly desire redemption. Regardless, a team like this generally requires some sort of leadership figure to keep them in line. The comics provide plenty of leeway when it comes to who can have this role, and it could be a hero, a villain, or an anti-hero.

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Thanks to the massive number of Marvel Comics characters that the MCU’s Infinity Saga movies has introduced over the years, there’s no shortage of good candidates for the Thunderbolts team leader. Not only that, but MCU Phase 4 has put a few names on the table as well. Here’s every character who could lead the Thunderbolts into battle in a future movie franchise.

Baron Zemo

As noted above, most incarnations of the Thunderbolts are government-sanctioned teams, but that wasn’t actually the original formula for the comic. In the beginning, they were led by longtime Captain America villain Baron Zemo. In the comics, Zemo – and not the government – controlled the Thunderbolts, which were a group of villains that he put together personally. As for what the MCU could do with him, Marvel following the original comics as opposed to most Thunderbolts stories makes more sense in light of where The Falcon and the Winter Soldier took his character. Zemo’s wealth and ambitions suggest that creating a team like the Thunderbolts might be an idea that’s of interest to him.

Also, it should be pointed out that Marvel putting Baron Zemo in charge of the Thunderbolts doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be the main character. If the MCU takes inspiration from his Thunderbolts arc in the comics, this could be a situation where the team leader is actually the movie’s main villain. In the original story, Zemo was playing the long game when he formed the Thunderbolts, as his real intention was to deceive people into thinking they had become real heroes. Much to his disappointment, the Thunderbolts bought into their newfound heroic reputations and turned on Zemo.

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Hawkeye

There’s one character who could go from Avenger to Thunderbolt in MCU Phase 5. In Marvel Comics, Hawkeye replaced Baron Zemo as the Thunderbolts leader to be a mentor figure to the villains. He was inspired to make this decision by the role that Captain America played in Hawkeye’s evolution from a former Iron Man villain to a true Avenger. Renner’s Hawkeye could take a similar route, even though he doesn’t share his comic counterpart’s backstory. Possibly because of his killing spree as Ronin, Hawkeye may find a way to relate to the Thunderbolts and express a willingness to redeem them. This could very well be his future after his Disney+ show ends.

Moon Knight

Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige has previously promised that at some point, Oscar Isaac’s Moon Knight will make the jump from his MCU Disney+ show to the movies. As a hero from the darker side of the Marvel Universe, Moon Knight doesn’t seem like an ideal choice for an Avengers team, but could work well with the Thunderbolts. Fundamentally, Moon Knight is a loner and not someone who can accurately be described as a team player, which is why aligning him with the MCU’s Thunderbolts team could be an interesting challenge for his next adventure. This could happen if Moon Knight is apprehended by the government for his vigilante activities at the end of the show. Such an ending could set up Moon Knight becoming the MCU’s Thunderbolts team leader.

U.S. Agent

In The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Contessa Allegra Valentina de Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) recruited John Walker (Wyatt Russell) for a mysterious purpose. At the time, the assumption was that she was bringing him onboard the Dark Avengers. But that may have never been the plan. Instead, her intention may have been for him to serve as the field leader of the Thunderbolts. If that’s the case, the team could still be depicted as a dark mirror of the Avengers, with U.S. Agent acting as an anti-Captain America who has less qualms than Steve Rogers about getting his hands dirty. Even so, he’d likely have more heroic qualities than the characters on his team and could be well-suited for giving them orders in the MCU’s Thunderbolts movie.

Yelena Belova

The second character shown to be on Val’s radar may also be an option for this role in Thunderbolts. The Hawkeye tease in Black Widow’s post-credits scene means that Marvel clearly has plans for Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh) that extend beyond her first movie, but just how deep they go into the MCU’s future remains to be seen. It could be that she’ll never becoming more than a supporting player in a movie or show, but if the MCU is in fact thinking bigger, Yelena could find herself leading her own team of anti-heroes in MCU Phase 5, possibly at the behest of the Contessa.

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Red Hulk

One of the characters who has led the comic book version of the Thunderbolts in the past is Red Hulk. The Red Hulk concept doesn’t exist in the MCU yet, but the character who turns into him does. General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross has had a recurring presence in the MCU and could continue to have one in the years to come. If Marvel ever intends to shake things up with his character, it could let him follow in the footsteps of his comic counterpart by having transform into Red Hulk in She-Hulk. If so, he could take charge of the Thunderbolts and bring new meaning to the team’s name.

Winter Soldier

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier ended in a way that promised a bright future for at least one of its protagonists. Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson, who officially succeeded Steve Rogers as the Sentinel of Liberty in the finale, is set to lead his own MCU movie in Captain America 4. Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), on the other hand, doesn’t have any more confirmed roles. However, Marvel could have special plans for both characters, not just Falcon. How the Disney+ series furthered his character development may have been the setup necessary for Winter Soldier to headline a Thunderbolts movie. With his background as an assassin, he could fit perfectly with the group’s anti-hero theme.

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