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Casting Tilda Swinton As The Ancient One, And Other Mistakes Marvel Studios Made

Five years after Tilda Swinton played The Ancient One in 2016’s Doctor Strange, and two years after reprising her role in 2019’s Avengers: Endgame, Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige has finally acknowledged that the particular casting was a mistake to begin with.

Not that Swinton was bad for the role in any sense, but in the comic books that the characters was featured in, The Ancient One was in fact Tibetan. Cries of whitewashing followed the casting news of Swinton, and Marvel, at the time, claimed that Swinton’s casting was meant to support creative freedom. Some even said that it was to increase the movie’s chance of opening in China, which has so far laid claim to Tibet and its people. It did.

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Now, Marvel head Kevin Feige has stepped forward to admit that it was a mistake. 

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“We thought we were being so smart and so cutting-edge,” Feige said in an interview with Men’s Health for a cover story on Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. 

“We’re not going to do the cliché of the wizened, old, wise Asian man. But it was a wake up call to say, ‘Well, wait a minute, is there any other way to figure it out? Is there any other way to both not fall into the cliché and cast an Asian actor?’ And the answer to that, of course, is yes.”

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With the studios later releasing Black Panther and soon Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and the diverse Eternals movie, it seems that Feige and his team have learned their lesson. 

And while it’s great that Feige has stepped forward to acknowledge that oversight, it’s not to say that Marvel Studios has only made that one casting error in the last 13 years.

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Now, just so we’re clear, if there’s one thing Marvel Studios does right, is that they (mostly) always pick the right actors for the franchise’s beloved characters. Think how Robert Downey Jr. and Tony Stark are symbiotic at this point, and you couldn’t fathom that years before, Tom Cruise was at one time considered to play Tony “Iron Man” Stark, before he dropped out due to differences of opinion on the script. 

Likewise, Chris Hemsworth almost didn’t make the trip across the Rainbow Bridge as Thor, as Daniel Craig was offered the role, and other actors, including Tom Hiddleston – who now plays the Loki we all love and adore – and WWE star Triple-H, auditioned for the role. 

The point is that while Marvel hardly misses, they have, at some point, made a mistake or six, starting off with the casting of Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One. 

Here are five other casting decisions that audiences and fans are not quite hot on.


Mickey Rourke

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We’re going to preface this list by saying that the Iron Man franchise have some pretty disappointing actors and we’re starting it with Mickey Rourke. 

Rourke plays villain Whiplash who is obsessed with ending Tony Stark’s life. Now if you don’t remember Rourke’s Whiplash, good for you because Rourke’s acting in the movie was crap. Even Rourke admitted it himself, although he said it was because Marvel had edited out all his good acting bits. The actor also said that he did his best to make his villain more dimensional, but that was dropped by Marvel as well. 

Safe to say, Rourke wasn’t happy with his performance. Same man, we fans weren’t happy either. 


Brie Larson

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Before you sharpen your pitchforks, here us out. Brie Larson is a good actress, even a great one but her as Captain Marvel… just wasn’t great. Captain Marvel / Carol Danvers is an assertive character who still has some room for flexibility in thinking on her feet. She’s great at finding solutions, leading, and taking action. Heck, she’s the Alpha. Danvers is such an alpha that whenever she decides to come down to Earth and deal with the measly Earthly folks who so proudly hold the title of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, they should look like peanuts in comparison.

Larson’s portrayal of Danvers was strong and at times too strong that it seemed like she didn’t have any dimension to her personality. Larson doesn’t command the screen when she’s on it – as one would expect from someone who’s meant to be Captain Marvel – and she sure as hell didn’t make us cheer when she appeared in Avengers: Endgame. Marvel fans are pretty easy to please when we’re happy – heck we even cheer for Chris Evan’s butt. If Larson doesn’t make us go “THAT’S OUR CAPTAIN MARVEL”, like we would to Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk or Scarlet Johansson’s Black Widow, then we’d consider her a mistake. 


Ben Kingsley 

It seems like Tilda Swinton wasn’t the other actor that was cast in a role fans associated with people of colour. Ben Kingsley portrayed The Mandarin in Iron Man 3, technically the same Mandarin who leads a terrorist organisation and will be making his big debut in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. 

Wait, what? It has been subsequently revealed that Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin is an imposter, but regardless of the fact that white talents should rarely, if even, take on roles of People of Colour, it’s the fact that Kingsley take was… too comical for a comic book character. 

In a world where we strive for representation for all communities of all kinds and backgrounds, whitewashing or erasure is not something we stand by and we’re glad that this time around, The Mandarin will now be played by Tony Leung – yay. And judging by the trailer, it’s clear that Leung will put on a more memorable performance this time. 


Terence Howard

Terence Howard played Tony’ good friend, Jim Rhodes aka soon-to-be War Machine in the first Iron Man film. When it was time for Iron Man 2, Howard was replaced by Don Cheadle. Reports said that Howard refused to agree to a pay-cut, especially since he was the top-paid actor on Iron Man. Whilst the man has every right to leave a project he feels is unfit for an actor of his calibre, fans didn’t miss him. 

In fact, when Cheadle stepped into the role, fans felt that he was a far much stronger actor and portrayed War Machine as the tough, hard, lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps that comic fans grew up reading about. Maybe Marvel should’ve hired Cheadle from the start but we’re glad Cheadle and not Howard took on the role in the last decade. 


Natalie Portman

Oh yeah, we know this one will get a rise out of some fans. 

Natalie Portman in Black Swan? Iconic. Natalie Portman in V for Vendetta? Jaw-dropping. Natalie Portman in Thor as THE Jane Foster? A snooze. 

Whilst a lot of Portman’s failure in portraying Foster boils down to the poor writing and characterisation of her on screen character, Portman really came in to work for a paycheck and gave us nothing. 

If you read the comics, you would know that Foster has an incredible character arc – fingers crossed we’ll get to see more character growth in the upcoming Thor: Love and Thunder – but Portman was hardly engaging to watch in the first two films. Reports said that Portman herself was unhappy with the role she was given, which makes a lot of sense now as to why Foster was such a snoozefest. We had big hopes for Foster and for Portman when she made her debut, but now we’re finding ourselves more and more of a Kat Dennings fan – especially with her amazing portrayal of Darcy in Wandavision. 

Chris Hemsworth himself seemed to have much more chemistry with Dennings instead of his on screen lover Portman, and that says alot. 

For most of these castings, we’re hardly going to see them again in phase 4, with the exception of Larson’s Captain Marvel and Portman’s Jane Foster with their respective sequels. To be fair, we are keen to see how Portman will fare when she reprises her role and takes on the mantle of Thor in the upcoming, Thor: Love & Thunder, so maybe this list will change then.

There’s still some time for Marvel and for the talents to prove us and our list wrong, but until then, Marvel made a big mistake with casting Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One, as they did the same with the other four. 


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