Marvel movies have rapidly become the most formidable force in blockbuster cinema. The Marvel Cinematic Universe will be sticking around for a while, too, because head honcho Kevin Feige recently announced up to Phase Six. The action scenes in Marvel movies are usually pretty well-received, but the romantic subplots tend to be one-note and forgettable.
Gifted actors like Michelle Williams and Natalie Portman have been squandered on one-dimensional love interest roles. But there are a few standout performances as love interests in Marvel Comics-based superhero blockbusters, like Zendaya as MJ and Zoe Saldaña as Gamora, and Williams and Portman are talented enough to elevate their roles.
10 Gwyneth Paltrow As Pepper Potts
The first love interest in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – the love of Tony Stark’s life (and his former employee), Pepper Potts – is still one of the best. Gwyneth Paltrow proved to be the perfect scene partner for Robert Downey, Jr. She presented a subdued counterpoint to his unstoppable energy.
Paltrow keeps up with Downey’s snappy improvised riffs as the deadpan voice of reason. But she also deftly handled the more dramatic turns – especially her tearjerking final moment at Tony’s side before the cosmic force of the Infinity Stones kills him.
9 Michelle Williams as Anne Weying
Michelle Williams is one of the greatest actors in the world. Her talents have been massively underutilized in the Venom movies, in which she plays Eddie Brock’s ex-fiancee, attorney Anne Weying.
But, as always, Williams elevates the material. She shares great chemistry with Tom Hardy, and one of the first movie’s standout scenes is when she bonds with the Venom symbiote.
8 Lupita Nyong’o As Nakia
Nakia is essentially the Elaine Benes of the MCU. She’s not just one of Wakanda’s top secret agents; she’s also T’Challa’s ex. They’re trying to make it work as friends, but there’s clearly still romantic tension between them.
Lupita Nyong’o is one of the finest actors on the planet, and she makes a huge impression with a small amount of screen time. She’s also a leading candidate to take on the mantle of Black Panther.
7 Jennifer Connelly As Betty Ross
Ang Lee’s Hulk is generally considered to be a weak superhero film, but its portrayal of Betty Ross is one of the most multi-dimensional love interests in a comic book movie. She’s Bruce Banner’s ex-girlfriend and colleague, General Ross’ estranged daughter, and the only person who can get the Hulk to revert back into Bruce.
The film’s on-the-nose visual style doesn’t really work with unconvincing CGI and comic book panel scene transitions. But the performances salvage the movie. Eric Bana and Jennifer Connelly bring a surprising amount of pathos to their characters and their relationship.
6 Hayley Atwell As Peggy Carter
Peggy Carter is one of the only people to actually believe in Steve Rogers before he takes the serum and becomes the first Avenger. Played wonderfully by Hayley Atwell, Peggy is sensitive to Steve’s insecurities, but also matches his badassery.
according to MovieWeb, Atwell herself summed up what makes this character so great: “I likened her character to that famous Ginger Rogers quote. She can do everything Captain America can do, but backwards and in high heels.”
5 Emma Stone As Gwen Stacy
Sam Raimi’s Groundbreaking Original Spider Man trilogy is superior to The Amazing Spider-Man reboot series in almost every way. But the latter franchise has a more compelling love interest. Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane is largely confined to cheating on her boyfriends and screaming through dangerous situations.
Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy is a much more interesting character. She’s smart, likable, and charismatic. She also shares spectacular chemistry with Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker. It’s easier for the audience to buy why Peter is so madly in love in this version of the franchise.
4 Morena Baccarin As Vanessa Carlysle
Morena Baccarin plays a non-mutant adaptation of Wade Wilson’s fiancée Vanessa Carlysle in the Deadpool movies. Baccarin nails the comedic timing and matches Ryan Reynolds’ quippy energy. The first movie has a hilarious running joke where Wade and Vanessa constantly one-up each other recounting their fictional tragic backstories.
Not only that; the emotions of the love story ring true. On top of the self-aware superhero spectacle, Baccarin offers a truly authentic portrayal of a supportive partner helping a loved one through a cancer diagnosis.
3 Natalie Portman As Jane Foster
Natalie Portman is yet another world-class actor who was underutilized with her appearance as a Marvel love interest – especially in Thor: The Dark Worldwhere Jane Foster was literally pushed into the background of most of her scenes to accommodate a larger role for Loki.
But Marvel Studios recently made up for it in Love and Thunder. Portman got to chew on Taika Waititi’s zany comedic one-liners, played the difficult emotions of a battle with terminal illness, and also got her own superpowers and gave audiences a new hero to look up to.
2 Zoe Saldaña As Gamora
Gamora is much more than just a love interest in Guardians of the Galaxy; she’s one of the main heroes of the movie. Gamora’s burgeoning romance with Star-Lord is just one aspect of her character. She also turns on her abusive father Thanos and attempts to reconnect with her estranged sister Nebula.
Zoe Saldaña brings plenty of nuance to the role. In the hands of such a masterful actor, she’s one of the most emotionally resonant members of the team.
1 Zendaya As MJ
Peter Parker’s first MCU love interest in Spider Man: Homecoming was Liz Toomes, paving the way for one of the best plot twists in the franchise. But it was always clear that Zendaya’s morbidly deadpan comic relief character, MJ, aptly named after the love of Spidey’s life from the comics, was a better match for Peter.
MJ finally took the spotlight as Spidey’s main romantic interest in Far From Home. With a larger role, Zendaya revealed the painfully relatable vulnerability that MJ’s cynical facade has been masking.
NEXT: 10 Best Superhero Performances In Marvel Movies