Over 20 movies, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has presented viewers with many different female love interests (emphasis on the female) for its title heroes. Unfortunately, it’s a classic superhero trope to have a powerless damsel in distress, often little more than an object for the hero to save, serve as the hero’s love interest. There are many powerful, kickass women in the MCU, but representation could still be a lot better. So we decided to rank the love interests of the MCU by how well they rise above these female stereotypes to represent (or not!) complex characters who play an essential part in the universe.
8. Betty Ross
The MCU dropped Betty Ross like a hot brick after 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, failing to even mention her name in any of the following movies. She wasn’t the most compelling character, but she was built up to be the love of Bruce Banner’s life, and she plays a hugely significant role in the comics — where she becomes Harpy and later, Red She-Hulk, and takes on Hulk’s archenemy the Abomination. Despite her slightly problematic damsel-in-distress leanings, Betty certainly deserved more than she received. It seems that the memory of Betty Ross will remain forever buried alongside Edward Norton’s brief tenure as the Hulk.
7. Liz Toomes
Liz Toomes is your typical overachieving teenage girl, making her the perfect love interest for 16-year-old Peter Parker. She’s pretty, articulate, and an all-around decent human being. However, her character never really moves beyond being a teenage object of affection. Peter doesn’t get to know her on a deep level, and her criminal father defines most of her arc. Overall, her role in the MCU is one of the least significant of any of the love interests (so far). Here’s hoping life gets better for poor Liz.
6. Jane Foster
We were rooting for Jane Foster. She had potential, but as a film love interest for the prideful thunder god Thor, she misses the mark. She is altered from her comics persona as a compassionate nurse (and later the Mighty Thor herself) into a highly intelligent but somewhat removed scientist. Though this decision appears to make sense on paper, it actually destroys a fundamental part of Jane’s character: her humble work as a healer in the comics teaches Thor how to appreciate humanity. On top of that, their on-screen chemistry isn’t believable, and Jane participates in few heroics in her own right, needing to be saved more than doing the saving herself.
5. Laura Barton
When it comes to being the most unexpected love interest of the MCU, Laura Barton (Hawkeye’s wife) takes the cake, having no basis in the comics. She plays a relatively small — but effective — role in the films. In all the craziness of Age of Ultron, Laura acts a motherly figure, providing some perspective for the mighty Avengers. She represents the grounded family lifestyle that most of them will never experience, and she graciously offers up wisdom and shelter. Clint Barton’s shockingly supportive wife adds a new dimension to the skilled marksman, reflecting a hero’s life on an everyday human level.
4. Pepper Potts
As the love interest of the hero who started it all, Pepper Potts rightly became the First Lady of the MCU. Even so, she doesn’t get the credit she deserves — as she’s always relegated to the sidelines, despite appearing in so many movies. Pepper has a strong core, and she can work with anybody. She is a highly skilled businesswoman and a much-needed voice of reason, keeping the impulsive Tony Stark in check. Unfortunately, her role amounts to little more than managing Tony, so Pepper has yet to fully shine as a hero in her own right. This rank is not a slight on her overall quality as a character — we just want to see more!
3. Christine Palmer
Dr. Christine Palmer is far too good for Dr. Stephen Strange. Throughout Doctor Strange, she proves herself to be an intelligent, poised, and good-hearted human being. She just about matches Strange’s technical abilities as a doctor, but instead of seeking glory, Christine searches for how she can help the most people. Witty and charming, she refuses to back down to Strange’s arrogant behavior. Christine is the kind of dependable, beautifully human character needed to ground a larger-than-life hero, representing the qualities of humility and courage that Strange has to spend an entire movie learning.
2. Peggy Carter
Agent Peggy Carter is the OG lady badass in the MCU, serving as an ingenious soldier, spy, and founder of S.H.I.E.L.D. As she displays in her command of the soldiers in Captain America: The First Avenger, she will let no man control or intimidate her, even though she lives in a time when women have few opportunities. A master of combat and strategy, Peggy looks fierce as hell in everything she does. Also, she displays a relatable vulnerability in her tragic relationship with Steve Rogers, showing us that underneath her hard edges lies a woman who would sacrifice everything to protect the world.
One of the main heroes in Black Panther, Nakia works with T’Challa and fights alongside Okoye, Shuri, and Ramonda when he’s out of commission. She’s an admirable example of a leader and humanitarian, using her espionage abilities as a Wakandan War Dog to help people in need throughout the world despite her country’s isolationism. Nakia and T’Challa have a natural chemistry, but that doesn’t mean she’ll compromise her integrity when she knows she’s right. Though Nakia has not appeared in any other MCU movies yet, she is a courageous hero everyone should get behind.
The MCU deserves a healthy amount of praise for its treatment of women, especially in later installments like Black Panther. However, the franchise has still spawned several stereotypical, flat love interests for their male characters. Not to mention that all of the main female superheroes are yet to have an average human love interest. Hopefully, Captain Marvel (in theaters March 8th, 2019) will be a significant step towards putting more powerful women at the forefront of the franchise.