10 Marvel Comics Characters Based on Real People

We all know the popular superheroes and supervillains of Marvel Comics. But what you may not know is that behind their flashy costumes and superhuman abilities often lies a real person who influenced that character. That’s right, some of Marvel Comics’ most iconic characters were inspired by actual people.



Some of these names may be unfamiliar to you, ordinary people who knew and inspired the character’s creator. Others are famous people that you’ll definitely recognize, whose lives and appearances were used to shape some of Marvel’s biggest creations. Because of them, these ten Marvel characters are now as real to us as the people they’re based on.

10 Thanos Was Based on Sigmund Freud

Even His Name Came from Freud

Everybody knows Thanos, the first major villain of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But what you may not know is that Thanos was inspired by Sigmund Freud, the famous neurologist whose work on psychoanalysis greatly impacted the field of psychology. Well, kind of. Thanos wasn’t inspired by the man himself, but by one of his ideas: the human Death drive, which is exactly like it sounds.

It’s the Freudian belief that humans possess a drive toward death and destruction, implicated through aggression, the repetition of toxic and traumatic behaviors, and self-destructiveness. And that is exactly what Thanos represents: the drive toward death and destruction.

Oh, and the common name for Freudian’s human death drive? “Thanatos”, which is the personification of death in ancient Greek mythology. It’s this belief that birthed the supervillain Thanos. Although, when you look at Freud and Thanos side by side, there does seem to be a resemblance…

9 Kingpin Was Based on Sydney Greenstreet and Robert Middleton

Based on Beefy Gangster Villains in the Movies

Wilson Fisk, better known by his gangster alias Kingpin, is a hulking mob boss, who’s served as the antagonist to multiple superheroes, including Spider-Man, Daredevil, and the Punisher. Don’t let his abundance of white suit jackets fool you; this guy is no angel. He was the villain in numerous adaptations, like 2003’s horrible Daredevil film where he was played by Michael Clarke Duncan, the Oscar-winning animated film Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, and Netflix’s hit TV series Daredevil, where he was played to perfection by Vincent D’Onofrio, who continues to play the character in the MCU.

The Kingpin was actually based on not one but two different actors. One of them was Sydney Greenstreet, who played the villain Kasper Gutman in the Humphrey Bogart classic, The Maltese Falcon. The other actor was Robert Middleton, who was known for playing beefy villains. Combine these two actors together, and you pretty much get a caricature of Kingpin.

8 Bucky Barnes Was Based on Bucky Pierson

A Real WWII Vet

Originally introduced as Captain America’s sidekick, Bucky Barnes eventually grew to be his own hero — and also his own villain, known only as the Winter Soldier. At one point, Bucky takes on the mantle of Captain America when his old friend, Steve Rogers and the original Captain America, is presumed to be dead.

Stan Lee loved giving his characters alliterative names to make them easier to remember: Peter Parker, Bruce Banner, Reed Richards, and so on. But he shockingly was not the writer to come up with this one. Bucky Barnes was actually co-created by Joe Simon, who also created the iconic Captain America. Simon bestowed Cap’s boyish sidekick with the name Bucky, named after his own high school friend Bucky Pierson, who really did serve in World War II.

Bucky has been a major ally (and at times, a problem) for Cap in the MCU, portrayed by actor Sebastian Stan in multiple films, including Captain America: Winter Soldier.

7 Mary-Jane Watson Was Based on Ann-Margret

Her Look Was Designed by John Romita Sr.

Mary-Jane Watson is one of the most famous female characters in Marvel Comics. This spunky redhead is the main love interest of Spider-Man, ever since his high school days, and later becomes his wife. Although MJ was created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, it was artist John Romita Sr. who gave the character her iconic red hair and overall look.

Romita modeled MJ after the actress Ann-Margret, particularly from the 1963 musical Bye Bye Birdie, implementing Ann-Margret’s face shape, red hair, and overall coloring into the character’s design. Mary-Jane was the main love interest in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy, and a version of the character is currently in the MCU’s Spider-Man series, where she’s played by Zendaya.

6 Magneto Was Based on Menachem Begin

The Leader of a Zionist Military Group

X-Men comics always contained “heavier” themes than other comic books, paralleling the mutants’ struggles with real-life issues like racism and prejudice. So it only makes sense that its characters would reflect historical people who experienced these issues first-hand. Many people think that the X-Men’s arch nemesis Magneto, the powerful, metal-bending mutant, is based on civil rights leader Malcolm X. Although there are similarities, this isn’t the case.

Writer Chris Claremont, who created Magneto’s backstory, actually based the character on then-Israeli opposition leader, Menachem Begin. Like Magneto, Begin lived through World War II. His immediate family was killed during the Holocaust, and Begin himself became a prisoner of a Russian labor camp.

He rose to become the leader of a Zionist militant group and sparked revolts against the British mandatory government, which governed the Palestine region at the time. Begin would eventually become the sixth prime minister of Israel. Magneto has been famously played by Ian McKellen and Michael Fassbender in the live-action X-Men films, and rumors are swirling that the character will soon make an appearance in the MCU.

5 Professor X Was Based on Yul Brynner and David Ben-Gurion

We Can See Where He Got the Looks

Charles Xavier, widely known as Professor X, is a powerful telepathic mutant, as well as the founder and leader of the X-Men. His character is based on David Ben-Gurion, who was Israel’s primary national founder and also its first prime minister. And interestingly, Ben-Gurion was sort of a rival to Menachem Begin, who was the basis for Magneto.

Ben-Gurion and Begin were both proud Zionists, though they differed greatly in their approach of managing and leading Israel. Yet despite their political differences, these two Israeli leaders shared a deep respect for each other, just like Professor X and Magneto.

While Ben-Gurion served as the inspiration for Professor X’s backstory, it’s actor Yul Brynner who inspired the character’s appearance. The Academy Award-winning actor, who starred in The King and I, was known for his shaved head, a key element in Professor X’s signature look.

Professor X has become one of Marvel’s most iconic Marvel characters, and has famously been played by Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy in the live-action X-Men films. Patrick Stewart reprised the role in Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, though he seemed to be only one version of the character.

4 Nick Fury (Ultimate Universe) Was Based on Samuel L. Jackson

Changed for the Ultimate Comics

This one is pretty cool. Nick Fury is the one-eyed leader of Marvel’s espionage agency, S.H.I.E.L.D. The original version of the character is white. But Fury was revamped in the Ultimate Marvel universe, which reimagined and modernized Marvel’s most popular superheroes.

Here, Fury became an African-American man (he still only had one eye) and was modeled after the appearance of iconic actor Samuel L. Jackson. This is the version that was portrayed in the MCU — and even cooler, they actually got Samuel L. Jackson to play the role. You can’t get a better casting than that.

3 J. Jonah Jameson Was Based on Stan Lee

The Father of Marvel Comics

Stan Lee is the god of Marvel Comics and is arguably the most important writer and publisher in the comic book industry. Nearly every Marvel movie exists because of this guy right here. Lee created countless stories and characters — iconic heroes like Spider-Man, Iron Man, the Hulk, and so many others — so it’s really no surprise that the comic book titan inserted himself into the panels of his stories, though it’s not in the way you’d expect.

Rather than turn himself into a major superhero (let’s face it, most of us would’ve done that if we had his power), Lee created a supporting character that was based on himself. Granted, he’s a pretty major supporting character.

J. Jonah Jameson is a sort of antagonist to Spider-Man and the publisher of the New York City newspaper, the Daily Bugle. He’s known for his smear campaigns against Spider-Man, his fiery personality, and his ever-present cigar. Jameson has appeared in multiple Spider-Man movies, portrayed perfectly by J.K. Simmons.

Lee revealed that he based Jameson on a much grumpier version of himself. Spider-Man writers Tom DeFalco and Gerry Conway agreed that J. Jonah Jameson was the closest Lee ever came to a self-portrayal in his comics. In fact, some of the dialogue they’ve written for Jameson came directly from Lee’s mouth.

2 Wolverine Was Based on Paul D’Amato

A Surefire Slap Shot

Wolverine may be the most popular and famous character in the X-Men now, but that wasn’t the case when the comic book series debuted in 1963. In fact, Wolverine didn’t even exist yet and wasn’t one of the original X-Men. Due to poor sales, the X-Men series was canceled. It was revived in the 1970s, bringing back familiar faces like Professor X and Magneto while introducing new, more diverse characters, like Storm, Nightcrawler, and, of course, Wolverine.

Writer Chris Claremont, artist Dave Cockrum, and artist-writer John Byrne played huge roles in Wolverine’s development. It was Byrne, however, who gave Wolverine his iconic look, basing his appearance on actor Paul D’Amato, who co-starred in Slap Shot alongside Paul Newman. Just look at that guy’s face and all that hair. D’Amato was even 5’7″ — not as short as Wolverine in the comics but still on the smaller side.

Wolverine’s badass, violent, and edgy nature made him an instant hit, a standout in the massive ensemble of X-Men, and his popularity continues to soar today. He’s been famously portrayed by Hugh Jackman in the live-action X-Men movies who, aside from his tall height, has been the perfect Wolverine. Jackman will reprise the role in 2024’s Deadpool & Wolverine, where Wolverine will at last don his comic book-accurate suit.

Related: 10 Times a Superhero’s Costume Changed Drastically from Movie to Movie

1 Tony Stark Was Based on Howard Hughes

Inspired in Every Sense of the Word

Howard Hughes is an American icon. He began his illustrious career as a film producer, making classic Hollywood movies like the original Scarface. He then went on to become an aerospace engineer and business magnate, though it’s his role as a pilot that Hughes is most famous for. His biopic is called The Aviator, after all, where he’s played by Leonardo DiCaprio. Hughes was the Elon Musk of the early 20th century, one of the richest and most influential people in the world.

Stan Lee used Howard Hughes as a starting point to create his own billionaire: the iconic Tony Stark, also known as Iron Man. Like Hughes, Stark is one of the most innovative minds of his time, a pioneer of industry. Stark also inherited the womanizing reputation that Hughes himself was notorious for. Tony Stark was famously brought to life in the MCU by Robert Downey Jr., who just celebrated his first Oscar win for his supporting role in Oppenheimer.