With a 'Shazam!' here and a 'Piff-Paff-Poof!' there, Doctor Strange magically appears on Virgin Movies this week. Neurosurgeon Stephen Strange is the latest hero to head up the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which is now 14 movies strong and almost a decade old. As such, the MCU is practically bursting at the seams with nerd-pleasing comic-book superhero trivia and fun facts. Did you know...
1. Samuel L Jackson wasn't the first Nick Fury on film
That honour goes to one David Hasselhoff, who played Sergeant Fury in a naff made-for-video movie in 1998. It will not shock you to discover that it is not very good. The illustrators of Marvel's 'Ultimates' series secured the rights to use Samuel L Jackson's likeness for Fury in the comic-books, so when it came to casting the character again, Jackson was a no-brainer and Hasselhoff was just a no.
2. Tom Hiddleston originally auditioned for the role of Thor
Hiddleston and Thor director Kenneth Branagh got to know each other on the set of Wallander, the UK remake of the Scandianavian police drama. Hiddleston packed on several pounds of muscle to audition for the lead role in Branagh's Marvel movie – his audition tape is below – but he, and Chris Hemsworth, should probably be thankful he got the part of iconic villain Loki instead.
3. Making Chris Evans into a wimp was tricky
Marvel needed the already-kinda-buff Chris Evans to shape his body into Herculean proportions to play Captain America – they couldn't exactly ask him to lose all that bodyweight to play Steve Rogers as a nerd. Subsequently, each shot in Captain America: The First Avenger had to be filmed four times with different camera angels, using sophisticated props like boxes for the actors to stand on. When wimpy Steve interacted with other characters, he had eyes drawn on his chin so the eye-lines matched.
4. A member of Rage Against The Machine appears in Iron Man
Squint in Iron Man and you might just make out a star cameo in the background. One member of the Ten Rings terrorist organisation is played by Rage Against The Machine bass player Tom Morello, who considers himself a huge comic-book geek and begged director Jon Favreau to include him in the movie.
5. Vision and Dr Selvig are great mates in real life
Paul Bettany, who voices Tony Stark's robot butler JARVIS and later played Vision in Avengers: Age of Ultron, has a rather sweet connection with Thor actor Stellan Skarsgård. The Marvel stablemates are good friends in real life, and Bettany's daughter with wife Jennifer Connelly is named Stellan after the Swedish actor.
6. Doctor Strange's War Machine connection
There's fan controversy over whether one line of throwaway dialogue in Doctor Strange is an Easter Egg relating to the events of Captain America: Civil War. When Stephen Strange is taking a call in his car, he's told of a US soldier who suffered a spinal injury while wearing experimental armour – that sounds a lot like Rhodey, who is paralysed by Vision in Civil War. Doctor Strange director Scott Derrickson says it's coincidence; we say 'Hmmm'.
7. The Iron Man director list had some very interesting names on it
Jon Favreau (Zathura, Elf) got the gig that kickstarted the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but Marvel were after some other big filmmakers to direct Iron Man. Among the names on their hit-list were Quentin Tarantino (there goes your 12A rating), Nick Cassavetes and Joss Whedon. Joss eventually stuck around and landed the Avengers Assemble gig when Favreau turned it down.
8. The song is Captain America was written by a familiar name
9. Thor's eyebrows changed colour
There's one small different between the God of Thunder in his origin movie and in Avengers Assemble. Did you spot it? In 2010's Thor, Hemsworth was made to dye his eyebrows blonde to match his silky long hair. The effect was just too weird, and when it came to reprising the role in the Avengers movie, Whedon requested that Hemsworth leave his brows their natural colour.
10. Terrence Howard was the highest-paid actor on Iron Man
It's hard to believe, given that Robert Downey Jr is now making upwards of $50 million per Marvel movie these days, but back in 2008 he was considered a risk due to his past as a substance abuser. RDJ did get the gig, but he cost less than the first man cast in Iron Man: Terrence Howard as Jim Rhodes. The reason Don Cheadle took over from Iron Man 2 onwards? Howard was just too expensive. Downey Jr: laughing right now.
11. Chris Hemsworth got ripped to play Thor
Aussie actor Hemsworth wasn't much fancied for the role of Thor, having only the pre-requisite soap work and a cameo in JJ Abrams' Star Trek on his resume. The convince producers he was the right man for the job, Hemsworth spent eight weeks in the gym, where he gained 20 pounds of muscle doing exercises including Lateral Hops and, fittingly, Sledgehammer Slams. Ladies can confirm the work-outs were worth it.
12. Happy Hogan loves Pepper Potts
Tony Stark's faithful man servant Happy Hogan has a secret: he's head over heels in love with Gwyneth Paltrow's character Pepper Potts aka the boss's wife. On the Iron Man 3 press circuit, Jon Favreau revealed that the reason Happy was so obsessed with Downton Abbey was because he identified with the forbidden loves between masters and servants in the storyline. Your secret is safe with us, Happy. Sort of.
13. The Avengers' shawarma post-credits scene was added at the last minute
The hilarious throwaway post-credits scene at the end of Avengers Assemble – not the Thanos one, the shawarma one – was not filmed during principal photography. In fact, the late addition to the script was filmed two days after the film premiered in the US, as that was the only way Joss Whedon could reunite the cast. Chris Evans, in the middle of filming Snowpiercer, had to cover his beard with his hand.
14. The element that powers Tony Stark's arc reactor is real
Concentrate: here comes the science part. The element that powers Iron Man is actually real – Palladium is on the periodic table and everything (chemical symbol PD, atomic number 46, in case you were interested). The element that Stark creates in Iron Man 2, however, is not real – in the comic-book prequel, Stark tries to register it as “badassium” but fails. Chemists aren't exactly known for their sense of humour.
15. Vin Diesel is Groot
Famously, tree creature Groot is only capable of saying three words: “I am Groot”. Despite his character's limited vocabulary, Vin Diesel still had a full script – Diesel had to inflect each line differently using those three familiar words. He also recorded all of his lines in Spanish, German, French, Portuguese and Mandarin, because if there's one thing he's been absolutely clear on this far, it's that he is Groot.
16. Ant-Man has a cool Easter Egg in the Quantum Realm
You could watch Ant-Man's trippy Quantum Realm sequence a dozen times and still not see this blink-and-you'll-miss-it hidden secret, but as Scott shrinks down to sub-atomic size, a silhouette of Janet Van Dyne – Hank Pym's wife aka the original Wasp – can clearly be made out among all the hippy-dippy stuff. Expect her to return in 2018's Ant Man & The Wasp.
17. The original Hulk is still going
Lou Ferrigno, the wrestler who so memorably played the Hulk to David Banner in the 80s TV show, is still contributing to the character's legacy. Not only did Ferrigno cameo in Ang Lee's 2003 Hulk movie, he appeared in the 2008 Marvel version as a security guard, plus he voiced the Hulk in The Incredible Hulk, Avengers Assemble and Age Of Ultron. Once Hulk, always Hulk.
18. The infamous Nick Fury stinger almost didn't make it
The post-credits scene that started a billion-dollar empire was added as an afterthought. Iron Man director Jon Favreau knew he wanted to hint at a wider world in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it was extremely late in the day when he decided to call up Samuel L Jackson to film Nick Fury's scene. The public's reaction to the iconic introduction ended up landing Jackson a nine-picture deal with Marvel Studios.
19. Howard Stark has been played by three different people
Marvel have had to recast a couple of characters in their brief cinematic history, including Ed Norton's Hulk and Terrence Howard's Rhodey, but they had to cast Tony Stark's dad three times. Gerard Sanders posed as Stark Snr in photographs in Iron Man, Mad Men actor John Slattery played him in Iron Man 2 and Captain America: Civil War, and Dominic Cooper played the young Howard in Captain America: The First Avenger and Agent Carter.
20. Black Panther is not real
Captain America: Civil War has lots of characters to service, but it still devotes plenty of time to T'Challa aka Black Panther, the newest Marvel kid on the block. However, that black suit he wears? Although actor Chadwick Boseman was in costume on set, the suit that you see on screen is completely computer-generated; directors Joe and Anthony Russo confirmed that “every frame” of the suit is CGI.
21. Wolverine almost joined the MCU
The first Captain America movie was sent in the '40s, and Marvel had some great crossovers lined up that sadly got scorched due to legal issues. Ageless Wolverine was intended to cameo as a soldier, alongside Magneto as a young boy. Sadly, copyright lawyers are more powerful than fanboy writers, and the cameos were scrapped.
22. The Amazing Spider-Man wanted to be part of the MCU too
Spider-Man is owned by Sony. The Avengers are owned by Disney. It seemed like never the twain would meet. That changes this year in Spider-Man: Homecoming, a co-production between both studios, but they tried to make the Spider-Man/Avengers connection in 2012: talks to include OsCorp Tower alongside the Avengers Tower in the Manhattan Skyline fell through after all the digital work had already been completed.
23. Black Widow wears a reminder of Hawkeye
Although she was revealed to be crushing on Bruce Banner in Avengers: Age Of Ultron, Natasha Romanov has enjoyed a complicated relationship with former partner Clint Barton aka Hawkeye. In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Black Widow – when in her off-duty clothes – can be seen wearing a small arrow necklace, which is a tribute to the archer buddy with whom she endured so much.
24. Captain America almost made an early cameo appearance
In an alternate opening of The Incredible Hulk, Bruce Banner travelled to the Arctic, where he considered suicide. The big green rage monster shows up and causes an earthquake, and among the breaking ice, you can just about spot the red, white and blue of a very cold Captain America-shaped ice lolly in the frozen deep. Sadly the opening was cut.
25. Thor's hair is all his in The Dark World
For the first movie, Chris Hemsworth had to wear a wig as Thor, and it showed. Subsequently, Hemsworth spent over a year growing his hair out for 2013 sequel The Dark World for a more natural look. Later this year, in Thor: Ragnarok, Thor has his mighty locks shorn for battle on an alien planet, completing the Chris Hemsworth Thor hair saga circle.