The Avengers Actors Guide: Their Finest Career Moments

How to get your fix while we're waiting for Ultron…

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As Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. kicks off on TV this week (Tuesday in the US; Friday in the UK) and the Age Of Ultron looms (like the Age of Aquarius, only with more killer robots and shorter hair), it's time to reassemble Marvel's dream team and cast an eye over some of their best work to date. The Avengers: Age Of Ultron doesn't start shooting until early 2014 and won't be out until summer 2015, but here's where to get your fix of the Avengers until then.

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Chaplin (1992)

A worthy biopic of the silent era great and a showcase of Downey Jr.'s extraordinary talents. From vaudeville pratfalls and soundless mimickery to the graver business of Chaplin's failed marriages and run-ins with J. Edgar Hoover, he is, as the expression goes, ever Oscar-nominatable.

Tropic Thunder (2008)

Aussie tearaway Kirk Lazarus, playing Sergeant Lincoln Osiris is an explosive vessel for RDJ to crank up the silly to amazing new levels in a movie that started out promisingly as Spinal Tap-meets-Hearts Of Darkness and ended up as Air America 2. No blame for Downey though, who is joint MVP with an equally OTT Tom Cruise.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

As loveable loser Harry Lockhart, Downey Jr. makes seriously merry with Shane Black dialogue and a voiceover narration in which he says things like, "Don't worry, I saw Lord Of The Rings; I'm not gonna end this 20 times." Hyper self-aware and clearly such a fun activity that they decided to reteam for Iron Man 3.

Weird Science (1985)

Probably not one that would feature highly on the man's CV – at least, not ahead of Wonder Boys, Restoration, The Soloist or pretty much any of the other films he's been in – but darn it, look how young he is!

Chef (2014)

With no Iron Man 4 planned and Avengers: Age Of Ultron still two years distant, Downey Jr. has picked up some smaller projects, including law drama The Judge, and this, a reunion with Iron Man director/co-star Jon Favreau set on the LA restaurant circuit. No word on what he's doing in it, although it's bound to involve dealing with carb-avoiding customers given the setting.

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The Kids Are All Right (2009)

Often content to be quietly excellent alongside showier performers, Ruffalo scored a richly deserved Oscar nomination for his turn as the kinda-creepy, kinda-charming sperm donor who inveigles his way from his organic food store into the lives of a gay couple and their two children.

You Can Count On Me (2000)

'The Ruffulo' reunited with Kenneth Lonergan for the long-on-the-shelf (but well-worth-watching) Margaret in 2011. This earlier collaboration, in which he plays a Catskills drifter who pitches up on sister Laura Linney's patch and upturns the family apple cart, is equally terrific and is largely responsible for launching his career.

The Brothers Bloom (2008)

Rian Johnson's con caper teams Ruffalo up with Adrien Brody as a pair of tricksters doing the Dirty Rotten Scoundrels thing across Europe. It's a Marmite experience for many, but a nice showcase for the actor's droll humour and offbeat charisma.

Zodiac (2007)

In frazzled SFPD 'tec David Toschi (also the inspiration for Bullitt), Ruffalo took on a real cop and brought him to life with a meticulousness that stretched all the way to his taste for bowties and Animal Crackers. For more frazzled Ruffalo cop action, head straight to Collateral (2004) or this year's Now You See Me.

Foxcatcher (2014)

Bennett 'Moneyball' Miller's true-life drama will give M-Ruff the chance to get his hulk on – albeit in an Olympic wrestling rather than a punching-Thor-in-the-head context. He's playing David Schultz, friend of schizophrenic chemicals heir John du Pont (Steve Carell), in what's bound to a hard-hitting tale.

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Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

The Avengers adventure (Avenge-ture?) began with a wartime romp that saw Evans try Cap's costume on for size and find out that it fit pretty nicely, thank-you sir. In a rare example of an actor being _de_muscled for a role, Marvel's CG wonks shrimped him into pre-serumed Steve Rogers. All the rest

Cellular (2004)

In a role that requires a lot of running about looking hunky, Evans nails both the running and the hunky parts, and then throws in some leading man charm in a kind of thespian buy-two-get-one-free deal. The film itself is a ho-hum thriller – there are some kidnappers and Kim Basinger, and if you remember any of it ten minutes later you're doing well – but he carries the action beats nicely.

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (2010)

This is only a cameo from Evans but it's an utterly hilarious one as Hollywood-ego-monster-cum-skateboarder-stroke-second-evil-ex Lucas Lee. He must be defeated by Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) in order for Pilgrim to win the heart of Ramona Flowers, a task made substantially easier when Lee explodes himself doing a grind.

Sunshine (2007)

Aside from Fantastic Four, this was Evans' first involvement with a huge movie crew and, boy, did it not end well (onscreen; it's a good film!). As engineer Mace, he offers level-headed ballast to the increasingly deranged goings-on aboard Icarus II as it draws ever closer to the sun. Presumably for the one-time Human Torch, it was just like going home.

1:30 Train (2014)

This indie sees Evans step behind the camera for the first time, with Rain Man writer Ronald Bass punching out a Before Midnight-y encounter between Evans' muso and a so-far uncast robbery victim. He also has a Stephen King adaptation, The Ten O'Clock People, a frosty sci-fi in Snowpiercer, and, of course, the also-a-bit-brrrrr Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

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The Hurt Locker (2009)

Employing levels of on-screen sangfroid not seen since The Terminator, Renner's bomb disposal man, Sergeant First Class William James, earns his "wild man" tag the hard way: by remaining cool in the face of enormous explosive devices. He was Oscar nominated for a role that elevated him from that-guy-from-that-thing status to star billing.

The Town (2010)

Another Oscar nod, another icy turn with hints of Steve McQueen cool about it. This Boston-set heist thriller – Heat goes east – sees him gel comfortably with Ben Affleck, in a performance full of coiled menace, muted rage and high-stakes shellsuits.

The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford (2007)

This is a dialled-back depiction of oft-curmudgeonly, occasionally moral gang member Wood Hite. In Jesse James's gang, Hite is the one who hangs around at the edges looking ready for action. So he's Hawkeye, basically. Wonder if that helped him get that role?

Dahmer (2002)

It's disconcerting stuff from Renner as serial-killing nutjob Jeffrey Dahmer in this 2002 biopic. This certainly made an impression on Kathryn Bigelow, who cast him in The Hurt Locker on the strength of his ultra-creepy depiction of the Milwaukee Cannibal.

Kill The Messenger (2014)

No actor has more franchises on the go than Renner (Bourne! The Avengers! Mission: Impossible! The terrible one with all the witches!), so this thriller, produced by and starring the Californian, offers a welcome change of scale. He plays a journalist investigating the CIA's involvement in the LA drugs trade.

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Lost In Translation (2003)

This starmaking turn for Johansson paired her with Bill Murray as an artless college graduate with time to kill and an ex-Ghostbuster to kill it with. The result was her finest performance to date: guileless, wise beyond her years and a perfect vessel for her director's marital anxieties. Question is: what //does// Bob whisper to her at the end?

Ghost World (2001)

The versatile New Yorker slotted neatly into Terry Zwigoff's merrily miserabilist world as Becky, a high-school grad with a way with boys but no clear avenue forward in life. Thora Birch and Steve Buscemi attracted most of the critical notice, but Johansson, more awkwardly beautiful back then, is more than noteworthy too.

Girl With A Pearl Earring (2003)

A muse to a director or two herself, here Johansson performs the role for Jan Vermeer (Colin Firth) with an immaculate blend of purity and meekness as a Dutch maid with sparkly eyes. There are very few people who can pull off a 16th century bandana. Fortunately, she's one of them.

The Prestige (2006)

You could make a strong case for Vicky Cristina Barcelona, but The Prestige, another Rebecca Hall pairing, is an equally effective showcase for Johansson's talents. She excels in the Debbie McGee role as assistant to Hugh Jackman's magician, double-dealing her way around 19th century London.

Under The Skin (2013)

Chef looks a bit like a mini Marvel reunion, with Johansson, RDJ and Jon Favreau all aboard, but Jonathan Glazer's Under The Skin is the one we've got our eyes on. Scar-Jo plays an alien targeting Scottish men – like Species by way of the EDL.

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Changing Lanes (2002)

Samuel L. Jackson fulminates as only he can in the role of harried insurance Doyle Gipson, a man with a distinct Shelley Levene vibe about him. Rather than a set of steak knives, it's revenge he craves when Affleck's hotshot lawyer makes a mess out of his car and his life.

Pulp Fiction (1994)

Jules Winnfield, a jheri-curled angel of death, is a Bible-quoting, 9mm-wielding landmark in screen presence. Even if he wins another 16 Oscar nominations, a Nobel prize and the US PGA, this is the gig that Jackson will be remembered for.

Unbreakable (2000)

Before he was Frozone, Jackson was Elijah Price, AKA 'Mr. Glass', the brittle-boned superbad in M. Night Shyamalan's refreshingly skewed take on the comic-book universe. The glass cane (Jackson's own idea) and Frederick Douglass hair (Dou-GLASS, geddit?) further elevated his menacing portrayal of a complex soul.

Jackie Brown (1997)

He's spectacularly odious in Django Unchained, righteously furious in A Time To Kill and he makes some salient points about the relative velocity of water and ice in Deep Blue Sea. But only in Jackie Brown does he say: "AK47. When you absolutely, positively, have to kill every single motherfucker in the room." Welcome aboard.

The Secret Service (2014)

Jackson will be looking to do the whole Ezekiel 25:17 thing on Colin Firth and Taron Egerton's spies in Matthew Vaughn's action-thriller. Yes, he's playing a comic-book villain but before you running around screaming "The Spirit! The Spirit! My eyes!", bear in mind that this one has a pedigree cast and a screenplay from Kick-Ass pair Vaughn and Jane Goldman.

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Thor (2011)

Being the scion of an ageing disco victim and brother to a slippery trickster is no easy task. Sure enough, Hemsworth's petulant deity makes an absolute balls of it, before eventually finding redemption on Earth while, for a bonus, mastering our puny table manners.

Cabin In The Woods (2012)

Everyone's favourite post-modern horror of 2012, this Joss Whedon joint had Hemsworth trapped in a rural locale with evil at large and nary a magic hammer to hit it with. Despite being, well, Thor, he looks suitably scared when events call for it. Which they do. Often.

Star Trek (2010)

It's a blink-and-he-vaporises turn, sure, but this is still immensely impressive stuff from the big Aussie. As James Kirk's (Chris Pine) doomed dad, he makes us cry in even less time than it took Up to achieve the same feat.

Rush (2013)

The next (really speedy) cab off the rank for Hemsworth represents the biggest test of his acting chops to date. He passes with flying colours, selling F1 driver James Hunt's firebrand talents and stormy personal life, and nailing the home counties accent, with aplomb. Sorry, a plum.

In The Heart Of The Sea (2015)

If Chris Hemsworth's slate has a franchise-y look to it – and, frankly, why not? That shampoo ain't gonna pay for itself – his second Ron Howard movie in as many years sees him charting new vistas in a real-life Moby Dick tale adapted from Nathaniel Philbrick's bestseller.

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