Everything you need to know about ‘Thunderbolts’ – Marvel’s answer to The Suicide Squad

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is set to redeem some of its most villainous criminals in an upcoming Thunderbolts movie – their take on DC’s Suicide Squad.

While largely unknown to all but the most avid comic-book geeks, the Thunderbolts is an ever-changing group of ragtag villains, sometimes disguising themselves as heroes for villainous purposes and other times genuinely working to make amends for past crimes.

If this all sounds familiar, then you wouldn’t be the first to draw comparisons between Thunderbolts and DC’s own Suicide Squad, another group of baddies who become heroes for hire.

Marvel has hired Jake Schreier (Robot & Frank) to direct the Thunderbolts movie, with Black Widow screenwriter Eric Pearson penning the script. Here’s what we know so far. 

Who – or what – are the Thunderbolts?

The Thunderbolts are a group of reformed supervillains and morally ambiguous heroes.

In their first iteration, a group of C-list villains (Beetle, Fixer, Moonstone and Screaming Mimi) were led by the evil Baron Helmut Zemo as they took on new identities and began fighting crime as newly-redeemed heroes. But what the team didn’t know was that Zemo had sinister ulterior motives and villainy in mind. Zemo gonna Zemo, etc.

The line-up has often changed during the Thunderbolts’s 25-year lifespan as a Marvel comic, with members ranging from Avengers that have lost the faith (Hawkeye) to supervillains looking to make amends for a life of crime (Ghost).

Baron Zemo
Photograph: Disney/MarvelDaniel Brühl (centre) as Baron Zemo in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

Which characters can we expect to see in the MCU Thunderbolts movie?

Marvel likes to keep us guessing when it’s transplanting its comic books onto the screen – as anyone who was totally blindsided by the Mandarin in Iron Man 3 can attest. 

So far we know very little about Thunderbolts’ likely storyline and casting, though the recent glut of MCU Disney+ shows could offer some clues.

Baron Zemo’s return in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier sets him up as a potential leader for the crew – much like in the Thunderbolts comic book origins. 

Yelena Boleva (Black Widow, Hawkeye) and US Agent (Falcon and the Winter Soldier) are also almost dead certs to join the team, with both reformed baddies having been recruited by Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s mysterious Valentina Allegra de Fontaine for an unknown initiative, likely to be the Thunderbolts.

It was revealed that Valentina had recruited Yelena to avenge her sister Black Widow’s death by order of crime boss Kingpin, the most recent leader of Thunderbolts in the comics.

Thunderbolts
Photograph: Time Out/Marvel

And one of the earliest MCU villains, Abomination, could be set to return in ThunderboltsFirst seen in the often-overlooked The Incredible Hulk, Abomination made a surprise cameo in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.

Plus, with a recurring role in the upcoming She-Hulk series, he seems like a strong contender for the Thunderbolts.

Other MCU characters that have been part of Thunderbolts include Luke Cage, Hawkeye, Ghost, Taskmaster, Deadpool, Elektra, The Punisher, Ghost Rider, Winter Soldier, and America Chavez.

Alternatively, the success of DC’s Peacemaker series could encourage Marvel to use Thunderbolts as an entry point for several lesser-known characters. And if you were guessing, you plump for Shocker, a regular Thunderbolt and frequent Spider-Man foe, who wears a pair of gauntlets that direct intense shockwaves. 

Which came first, Thunderbolts or Suicide Squad?

Not only did DC get the jump on Marvel at the box office with Suicide Squad’s release in 2016 – affording itself a second chance to get it right with 2021’s The Suicide Squad – but it won the print battle of villainous team-ups – by several decades.

The Suicide Squad’s origins as a comic book date back to 1959, while Marvel only introduced the Thunderbolts in a 1997 issue of ‘The Incredible Hulk’.

One key difference between the two anarchic posses is that while the Suicide Squad are run via a rule-bending government programme, the Thunderbolts often masquerading as heroes either for sinister ulterior motives or to genuinely find redemption.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus
Photograph: Disney/MarvelJulia Louis-Dreyfus and Wyatt Russell in ‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’

What MCU movies or TV series do you need to watch first?

Not knowing the make-up of Marvel’s exact Thunderbolts team as yet, it’s hard to say, but expect several familiar faces to appear. It’s definitely worth revisiting 2021’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, which introduced Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Valentina Allegra de Fontaine and had her recruiting the series’s ex-Captain America, John Walker (Wyatt Russell), and gives him a new identity of ‘US Agent’. She returned for a post-credit sting in Black Widow to recruit Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh) to assassinate Hawkeye.

If Walker is a dead-cert to be in the Thunderbolts movie, Daniel Brühl’s Baron Zemo is likely to be alongside him. Zemo, who first appeared as the antagonist of Captain America: Civil War, returned in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Given that he’s the superbad in the comic-books, can we expect Brühl back for more Sokovian shenanigans?

And if you have time, it’s also worth catching up on the Hawkeye series. In it, Yelena confronts Hawkeye over the death of her sister Black Widow, and Kingpin (Vincent D’Onfrio), the founder of the Thunderbolts in the most recent comic-book run, returns.

Following his defeat in The Incredible Hulk, Abomination made a surprise return in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and actor Tim Roth will reprise the role in Disney+’s She-Hulk: Attorney at Law in August.

Are there any recent Thunderbolts comic books to read before the movie?

The most recent outing of Thunderbolts was in a 2021-’22 run called ‘Devil’s Reign’, six issues that saw Wilson Fisk attempt to take down heroes such as The Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Captain America, and Spider-Man.

To do this, Fisk – now Mayor of New York – unleashes the Thunderbolts, his personal army of villains. On the team? Crossbones, Taskmaster, Typhoid Mary, Shocker, Whiplash, Rhino and Kraven. Don’t expect to see them all in the movie, though. Several are Spider-Man IP and are thus owned by Sony and its own superposse: the lawyers. 

When will Thunderbolts be released?

There’s no release date yet, though reports suggest that Thunderbolts will begin filming in the summer of 2023, which means a possible release date sometime in the summer of 2024. That year is already stacked with new MCU entries with Fantastic Four, Blade and Deadpool 3, but the Thunderbolts will definitely have novelty on their side.

From Iron Man to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, here’s Every Marvel movie ranked.

The 50 best comic book movies of all time.