How Will Harrison Ford’s Thunderbolt Ross Hold Up to Previous Iterations?
Harrison Ford is set to play the role of Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross in the upcoming film Captain America: Brave New World, making him the oldest actor to ever take on the role. At the age of 82, Ford surpasses the previous actors who played Ross, including Sam Elliott and William Hurt, who were both 58 years old at the time of their portrayals.
However, Ford’s casting as Ross indicates that his character will play a much more significant role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) than in previous films, where Ross was only portrayed in a supporting capacity. In fact, Ford’s casting in Captain America: Brave New World and the adjoining MCU team-up film Thunderbolts suggests that Marvel Studios has big plans for the character and the actor.
Ford’s star power is evident in the film, with Ross now holding the position of President of the United States, a role that is familiar territory for Ford, who previously played the US President in the 1997 film Air Force One. Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige has described Ross’ ascendance to the presidency as a big part of the film, with a dynamic between Ross and Sam Wilson, as well as between Captain America and the President of the United States.
Ford’s addition to the MCU has also sparked speculation that he may portray Ross’ monstrous alter-ego, the Red Hulk, who Ross transforms into in the Marvel comic book universe. The introduction of the Red Hulk into the MCU would likely require Ford to portray the character through motion capture, sparing him from the grueling action sequences that other MCU actors endure.
Despite his age, Ford’s appearance in the MCU demonstrates his willingness to try something new and different in his career, following his iconic roles in franchises such as Star Wars and Indiana Jones. Ford’s legacy is secure, and his presence in the MCU is a testament to his enduring star power and versatility as an actor.
Harrison Ford is, by far, the oldest actor who has ever played the role of Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross. Ford, who will make his first screen appearance as Ross in the upcoming film Captain America: Brave New Worldwill be eighty-two years old when the film is released next year.
In comparison, Sam Elliott was only fifty-eight years old when he played Ross in the 2003 film Hulkwhile William Hurt, who played Ross in five films, beginning with 2008’s The Incredible Hulk and ending with 2021’s Black Widowwas also fifty-eight when he appeared in The Incredible Hulk and seventy-one when Hurt, who died in 2022, appeared in Black Widow.
However, while Elliott and Hurt certainly left an enduring legacy with these performances, their portrayals of Ross were entirely in a supporting capacity. Conversely, the casting of a superstar like Ford clearly indicates that Ford’s Ross will be featured much more prominently within the MCU, as is evidenced not only by Ford’s casting in Captain America: Brave New World but also his purported casting in the adjoining MCU team-up film Thunderbolts.
Quite simply, why would Marvel Studios hire someone of Ford’s stature if they didn’t have big plans for Ford and Ross in Captain America: Brave New World and beyond?
President Thunderbolt Ross
The impact of Harrison Ford’s star power in the MCU is very apparent in terms of how much more political power Thunderbolt Ross has in Captain America: Brave New World than he did in previous films.
After being a decorated four-star general in Hulk and the United States Secretary of State in 2016’s Captain America: Civil Warwhich marked William Hurt’s second appearance as Ross, Ford’s Ross is now the President of the United States.
Of course, portraying the President of the United States is familiar territory for Ford, who previously played, in one of his famous roles, United States President James Marshall, in the 1997 action-thriller film Air Force One. In describing Ross’ ascendance to the presidency, and Ford’s role in the movie, Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige said:
“This is certainly a big part for Thaddeus Ross. He’s the President of the United States in the film. With Harrison, you think of Air Force Oneand you think about some of his confrontations with the President in Clear and Present Danger. There’s a dynamic between President Ross and Sam Wilson. They have a history together, but in this film, we’ll be seeing the dynamic between Captain America and the President of the United States, in a way that is just incredible.”
The Red Hulk
Harrison Ford’s addition to the MCU immediately inspired widespread speculation that Ford would also be portraying Thunderbolt Ross’ monstrous alter-ego, the Red Hulk, which is the Hulk form that Ross assumed within the Marvel comic book universe, in which Ross was transformed into the Red Hulk by The Leader and MODOK, through radiation that was drained away from Bruce Banner’s Hulk alter-ego.
Although Red Hulk certainly shares several similarities with the green version, there are also distinct differences, such as Ross becoming hotter and eventually disoriented and vulnerable the longer he stays in Red Hulk form. Also, unlike his green counterpart, Ross, as Red Hulk, is subsequently able to maintain his emotional core and human intelligence.
Having Ross transform into the Red Hulk in Captain America: Brave New World certainly seems like a natural fit, as it would show that the Red Hulk, much like Ford himself, is destined to play an important role in the future of the MCU. This also makes sense if Ford’s Ross appears in Thunderboltswhich is based on the Marvel Comics superhero team of the same name, as the Red Hulk serves as the leader of the sixth incarnation of this group.
Moreover, given Ford’s age, the introduction of the Red Hulk into the MCU would almost certainly require Ford to portray the Red Hulk almost exclusively through the motion capture process. However, while this process could prove to be arduous for Ford, it would also spare Ford from having to perform the grueling action sequences that other MCU actors have to endure.
Accordingly, this would leave Ford, whose own increasingly gruff screen persona is well-matched against the weathered tone that William Hurt established with the Ross character, with ample energy with which to play Ross as vigorously as possible, as opposed to having Ross merely appear as a glorified elder leader figure within the MCU.
Harrison Ford: The Film Franchise King
After starring in the Star Wars film series, the Indiana Jones films, and as Jack Ryan in the films Patriot Games and Clear and Present DangerHarrison Ford, to say the least, has nothing left to accomplish, save possibly winning an Academy Award. In explaining why he was interested in joining the MCU, Ford said:
“I can’t explain myself to myself. I just work here. I thought, ‘Everybody else seems to be having a great time.’ I watch all these terrific actors having a good time [in the MCU]. I like doing something different to what I’ve ever done and pleasing people with it. I’ll try a piece of that.”
Indeed, Ford now seems to be more adventurous in terms of his career choices than he has been at any previous point in his career. While Ford may no longer be capable of doing the heavy lifting, so to speak, that defined his screen persona in the 1970s and 1980s, Ford’s appearance in the MCU is emblematic of a superstar who seems perfectly content with the knowledge that his legacy will stand the test of time.