The Tony Starks, Natasha Romanoffs, and Steve Rogerses get all the headlines in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it’s the minor MCU characters that really make the franchise tick. In a sense, their role is a more difficult one, as they have to make an impact on the story within a fraction of the MCU screen-time the Avengers, Guardians, and other A-listers get, and yet they manage to pull it off each and every time.
Sometimes, these minor characters have decades of Marvel Comics history to back them up, but not always. Occasionally, they’re just MCU-only sidekicks that have been given scant minutes with which to worm their way into the hearts of audiences. It is a testament to the cohesive strength of the franchise, and all the individuals within it, that they’re usually successful in that endeavor.
Note: All individual screen-times for each film are rounded to the nearest quarter-minute.
Harold “Happy” Hogan holds the distinction of being the only character to appear in the first film of the MCU’s Phase One (Iron Man) and the final film of Phase Three (Spider-Man: Far From Home). That alone is evidence of his staying power, but it’s what Happy has done in between that has truly mattered.
Happy was, above all else, Tony Stark’s best friend, and the one who provided him with much-needed emotional support and sober second thoughts throughout their time together. But Happy is more than just an Iron Man sidekick. He’s fought goons alongside the Black Widow, faced down Whiplash in Monaco, and nearly sacrificed his life to stop AIM and their Extremis schemes.
Most recently, Happy has shifted into a role as a mentor - and surrogate father figure - to Peter Parker, the best and brightest of the MCU’s latest generation. Without Happy, Spider-Man doesn’t make it out of Far From Home alive. It’s worth mentioning, too, that in the midst of all this, Happy found the time to bring a little romance into the life of a lonely widow.
All that in roughly 26 minutes, less total screen-time than the average episode of WandaVision.Major impact?
A character named Groot has been all over the MCU and will continue to be featured for some time, but that sadly isn’t the first Groot audiences ever encountered. The OG Groot, as seen exclusively in Guardians of the Galaxy, was a one-and-done hero who still elicited more tears and plucked heartstrings than MCU characters with quadruple his 15-ish minutes of screen-time.
Groot’s good nature and open heart played a major role in assembling the Guardians in the first place, and without him, they would never have been able to escape the Kyln. He held the group together when Drax nearly split up the team, continually convinced Rocket to give these weirdos a chance, and then fought bravely and surprisingly viciously against legions of Sakaarian warriors.
Then came his “We are Groot” moment, in which Groot sacrificed himself to protect his teammates from the collision of the Dark Aster. Though this Groot was gone, he left a piece of himself behind, both figuratively and literally, in the form of the twig that would become Baby Groot.Major impact?
Because of the Ancient One’s mysterious and coy nature, much of the expository duties in Doctor Strange fall to Wong, the librarian of Kamar-Taj. It is through interactions with him that Stephen Strange learns the finer details of sorcery - to say nothing of the excellent foil the straight-laced Wong provides for Stephen’s rebellious antics.
But Wong is a lot more than just an info-dumper and comedic scene-partner. He defends the Hong Kong Sanctum against Kaecilius and his acolytes, faces down the arrival of the Black Order on Earth, and even manages to maim the Cull Obsidian.
Most impressively, and often overlooked, is the fact that it is Wong who organizes and teleports the vast majority of the fighters to the field for Endgame’s monumental final clash. Wong’s quip to Strange of “What, you wanted more?” actually says volumes about how much he’d accomplished in that moment - and in just over 11 minutes of total MCU screen-time. And he’s not resting on his laurels, either, as he’s already cage-fighting against the Abomination as of Shang-Chi.Major impact?
Of all the mothers in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it's arguable none have had a greater impact on her children than Frigga. In under nine minutes, she provided enough matronly care and wisdom to continue inspiring both her sons long after her demise - which in and of itself was one of the more emotionally fraught moments in the entire franchise. She even got in a wicked sword fight.
The loss of Frigga sent Thor, Loki, and Odin into a downward spiral from which only Thor would ever truly recover. But Thor’s recovery was in large part due to the wise words of Frigga, both in his memory and in the living past when he encountered her via time-travel in Endgame. It is she who reminds the Thunder God of his inherent worthiness and gives him the strength required to once again face down his greatest fear in Thanos.
But if Frigga’s impact on Thor was notable, it still pales in comparison to the one she made on the God of Mischief. Though not his birth mother, Frigga raised Loki as her son, and never stopped thinking of him as such - even after he gave her ample reason not to. It was her memory that inspired Loki to eventually - slowly and reluctantly - become a hero of sorts in the original timeline, and it was the lesson of his role in her demise that had a similar effect on the variant star of the Loki series.Major impact?