I keep reading that Iron Man was not really in the Marvel A-list until the first Iron Man movie.

So which characters were in the A-list before the MCU started?

These were two of the articles I read that referred to Iron Man as a former B-lister:

The honest trailer for Iron Man also refers to him as a B-list superhero.

The article "Reality Check: There are only about half a dozen A-list superheroes" on IO9 defines an "A-lister" as a character thus.

How can you tell if a hero is an "A" lister? It's partly about exposure beyond comics, including things like Saturday morning cartoons that help get a particular character into the minds of children. Or just the sheer amount of merchandising a particular character spawns at Toys 'R' Us. But also, the real "A" list heroes have already had multiple films at this point — and in the case of Superman, there was a TV show that lasted 10 years.

So for the context of this question, could we define an "A-lister" as a character that generates income in more ways than just the comics, and thus is more bankable?

  • 1
    that depends on what you mean by A-list, but in general, the Avengers and Fantastic Four and X-Men and Spider-Man have traditionally the "big names", and Tony Stark is definitely on that list.
    – KutuluMike
    Commented May 7, 2016 at 18:44
  • 6
    I'm not sure the "A-list" is well-defined.
    – Adamant
    Commented May 7, 2016 at 18:59
  • Could you link some the things you read . That might makes this question a bit more concise and answerable.
    – Skooba
    Commented May 11, 2016 at 16:27
  • For comparison, the A-list for DC comics is shown in scifi.stackexchange.com/q/68005/4918
    – b_jonas
    Commented May 13, 2016 at 9:31

2 Answers 2


This could be quite a broad topic so first of all

What defines an A lister?

Dictionary.com defines an A-lister as:

A group of desirable or admired people who are welcomed especially in social and professional situations: e.g.Hollywood's A list turned out for the Oscars.

In celebrity term it is usually the pull that celebrity has, or how Bankable they are. This is measured on the Ulmer Scale named after James Ulmer.

The Ulmer scale is a 100-point method used to quantify a star's value to a film production, in terms of getting a movie financed and the cameras rolling. The Ulmer Scale also takes into account an actor's history (box office successes vs. failures), versatility, professional demeanor, and ability and willingness to travel and promote movies.

Bankability of Marvel Heroes

We can work out similar Bankability with the Marvel comic book heros if we can work out how many comics they have sold.

If we take DC's undisputed A-list as an example they have the Trinity of Batman, Superman and Wonderwoman, this is pretty universally accepted as their big hitters.

Lets try to find out Marvel's Trinity...

Now there are A LOT of comics that have been sold over the decades and I do not have a month to try to collect all these together and come up with an answer.


Using the figures provided on Comichron I have managed to get the figures from the 60s (1960-1969) and one year in the 90s (there was A LOT more figures from the 90s), 1995 to be precise.

I chose 1995 because it should be close enough to present day to give an idea on current popularity but be far enough removed from films that could skew the popularity.


Taking the 1960s as a whole the sales looked like this:

Title                               Avg Sales
Tales to Astonish/Incredible Hulk   2,173,925
Tales of Suspense/Captain America   2,103,794
Rawhide Kid                         1,553,267
Amazing Spider-Man                  1,447,473
Fantastic Four                      1,344,143
Strange Tales/Doctor Strange        1,273,947
Thor                                1,156,209
Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos 1,059,073
Avengers                            1,056,070
X-Men                               1,030,275
Kid Colt Outlaw                     929,967
Journey into Mystery                757,727
Daredevil                           537,845

This would give a Trinity of The Hulk, Captain America and Spiderman (ignoring Rawhide Kid for the fact we don't hear too much about him now)


The figures below are not pure sales but are the index attributed by the Diamond Comic Distributors. The higher the number the more sales.

Title                           Diamond Comic Distributors
                                Order Index (Combined for all Titles)
X-Men (and Spin offs)           10460.4
Spider-Man (and Spin offs)      3481.3
Fantastic Four (and Spin offs)  1129.54
The Hulk                        557.58
Punisher                        555.51
Avengers                        539.02
Ghost Rider                     370.55
Iron Man (and Spin offs)        360.08
Captain America                 254.49
Daredevil                       214.39
Thor                            162.45
Doctor Strange                  127.45
Guardians of the Galaxy         121.23
Phantom                         75.23
Blaze                           68.46
Nova                            66.3
Namor                           49.1
Blade the Vampire Hunter        34.8

The Trinity at this point has shifted a little with X-Men being undisputed kings, with Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four completing the set but quite a way behind.

I don't think it is a coincidence that these three were sold off when Marvel needed money to stop them from going bankrupt.

So Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four have been around the top for quite a while, whereas X-Men had a massive resurgence and most of the MCU characters had suffered a dramatic drop off pre-MCU.

Iron Man is quite a way down on the list from the 90s, as are Captain America and Thor. The Hulk Sits in fourth but his film rights were also sold off as Marvel needed the cash.

  • Maybe the numbers on X-Men are due to the fact that there are so many spin offs? It'd be a closer shot to get just the numbers of the main franchise.
    – Bardo
    Commented May 13, 2016 at 9:55
  • @Bardo to be fair with X men there were not that many spin offs a couple of cables a rogue and gambit spring to mind. There were a number of X-men variants though including X-force and new mutants. Spider-Man had a few variants as I lumped a bunch of venom runs in too. And fantastic four had a lot with silver surfer included. All in all though I think they would still be top and the top three wouldn't change Commented May 13, 2016 at 9:58

I don't know that "A-list" really applies very well. What makes making an "A-list" difficult is you're assuming that Marvel was actively plugging that particular hero (or team) so that someone made a movie. In reality, the terms of rights to a particular story have been sold to a movie studio, and those terms typically state that you have to use said rights to make something within a given timeframe. Because of those terms, movie studios will make some seemingly strange decisions. In particular, they will sometimes produce a low budget movie or show, just to retain the rights. This is called an Ashcan Copy

An ashcan copy is a term that originated in the Golden Age of Comic Books, meant to describe a publication produced solely for legal purposes (such as copyright), and not normally intended for distribution. "Publishers had to produce only two copies of each copyrighted "ashcan" production – 1) for the Library of Congress and 2) for their records – fewer than five copies exist for most of these productions."

Most notable among them would be the strange airing of a Wheel of Time pilot at 1am as part of a paid TV block and an unreleased 1994 Fantastic Four movie. This is also why Spider Man has had so many recent reboots so close together.

For our purposes here I'm going to limit this to just live action films (which is what MCU is).

The only character whom you could say has been a mainstay for Marvel, in both comics and movies, is Spider Man. Spider Man had two movies in the late 70s. Both movies are terrible B-list quality, with Spider Man driving around in a van and "climbing" buildings with an obvious pulley rope harnessed. There was active, but unfruitful, activity in the 80s and 90s, but this was hampered by bad scripting, poor planning and the failure of other comic book movies (notably Superman III). Sam Raimi finally got a trilogy off the ground in 2002. Spider Man is only in MCU via Civil War, due to Sony owning the rights. At present, any movie featuring Spider Man will not be MCU for that reason. Spider Man has 7 released non-MCU movies (counting the two in the 70s).

X-Men would be next. There's no apparent attempts at a movie before the successful 2000 X-Men. There are now 9 released non-MCU movies (counting the forthcoming X-Men: Apocalypse).

Fantastic Four has four (insert ironic chuckle) non-MCU movies (including the aforementioned unpublished work)

Beyond that, the list Wikipedia has shows (listing only those with more than 1)

  • Captain America - 2
  • Blade - 3
  • The Punisher - 2
  • The Japanese Spider-Man series may not be faithful to the comics, but it sure is fun to watch! Marvel may still have it streaming on their site. Commented May 11, 2016 at 17:06
  • 2
    I'm not sure why you say that any movie featuring Spider-man will not be in the MCU, since the answer you linked to specifically says the next Spider-man movie will be part of the MCU. Tom Holland's Spider-man is and will be in the MCU.
    – J Doe
    Commented May 13, 2016 at 9:18
  • @JDoe: Yup. It’ll even have well-known MCU A-lister Iron Man in it! Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 16:55

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