NOTE: This article is about the incarnation of Thunderbolt Ross from the Marvel Cinematic film series. The mainstream version can be found here: Thunderbolt Ross.
Tell me, Captain, do you know where Thor and Banner are right now? If I misplaced a couple of thirty megaton nukes, you can bet there'd be consequences. Compromise. Reassurance. That's how the world works.
~ Thaddeus Ross to Captain America.
General Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross is a major antagonist in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, serving as the secondary antagonist of both the 2008 film The Incredible Hulk and the 2016 film Captain America: Civil War, as a minor antagonist in the 2018 film Avengers: Infinity War,and as a minor character in the 2019 film Avengers: Endgame.
He is portrayed by William Hurt.
He was a Lieutenant General of the United States Army. During his career, he was put in charge of the military project called the Bio-Tech Force Enhancement Project, which aimed to recreate the Super Soldier Serum. However, the experiment led to an accident which transformed the scientist Bruce Banner into Hulk.
After a long hunt, Banner was captured, only for Ross' subordinate officer Emil Blonsky to transform into the monstrous Abomination which forced Ross to accept Hulk as an ally and allow him to escape after the battle in Harlem. Five years after this incident, he is now serving as the U.S. Secretary of Defense.
A young Thaddeus Ross returned to America at the age of 27, having joined the military and participated in the Vietnam War. Over the years he rose to the rank of a three-star general, and also had a daughter named Elizabeth, who eventually went by the nickname, Betty.
Thaddeus Ross was involved in an Army research and development program intended to recreate the "Super Soldier Serum" first developed in World War II. The project was known as the Bio-Tech Force Enhancement Project. At the beginning of the scheme, the military had been using captured terrorists of Al-Haquid to test out various serums.
However, pictures of the project came out and the United States Congress killed it. Ross got an agreement with the scientist Bruce Banner, his daughter's fiancé, for working on a government project to render soldiers immune to Gamma Radiation, under the guise of being part of the weapon development project.
Involved in early phase research, Banner conducted a test on himself dealing with Gamma Radiation - instead of Vita Radiation - and after an accidental explosion, became the "Hulk", a giant and an amazingly strong brute who fled after injuring Betty, leaving her in a coma. When Banner returned to visit Betty in the hospital, Ross was furious and threw Banner out, causing Banner to go on the run.
Taken by a sense of guilt and rage, Ross put his life at the service of a single cause: to hunt down and capture Bruce Banner. Ross then formed an army unit called the Strategic Operations Command Center to recover the fugitive in coordination with S.H.I.E.L.D. The General's obsession caused a major rift between him and his daughter, Betty Ross, who still loved Banner. Their relationship never fully recovered.
The Incredible Hulk
Blonsky: I'm a fighter, and I'll be one for as long as I can. Mind you, if I took what I had now, and put it in a body that I had ten years ago, that would be someone I wouldn't want to fight. Ross: I think I can arrange something like that...
~ Emil Blonsky and Thaddeus Ross.
Later, Ross received intel from Kathleen Sparr that a man had become infected with Gamma Radiation after drinking a bottle of Pingo Doce. Knowing this must have been caused by Banner, he began a frantic search, tracking down the factory that produced the soda in Rocinha, near Rio de Janeiro and ordered his soldiers and contacts to look for a while man working in the factory.
Ross began putting together his unit with the sole purpose of capturing Banner, he managed to hire one of the best operatives at his disposal, Emil Blonsky, and sent them to the village of Rio de Janeriro. As they traveled to the location, Ross chooses to not disclose the secrets of Banner's condition, believing them to still be top-secret. He told Blonsky and the other soldiers that Banner was a target of the US Government who had stolen military secrets. He ordered them to ensure that Banner was captured without incident.
During the attack, Ross stayed close and gave orders to the soldiers. Banner managed to escape and began to run, with Blonsky giving chase. At one point Banner ran past Ross's armored van, Ross stepped out and looked Banner in the eyes. Banner continued to run until he became cornered in the Pingo Doce factory and transformed into the Hulk. He defeated the soldiers and escaped, Ross, screamed "No" as he watched the Hulk smash through a wall and escaped.
When Emil Blonsky returned he was furious at Ross for not telling him of Banner's condition as several of his men had been killed. When they returned to the USA, Ross told how Banner became the Hulk. They discussed the Super Soldier Program from World War II, Blonsky expressed interest in having another chance to fight the Hulk and claimed that he wished that he could have the body he had 10 years ago along with the mind he has now. Ross claimed he could arrange something like that for him. Blonsky accepted Ross's offer to be injected with an experimental version of the Super Soldier Serum, developed by Ross' researchers. Ross collected the Serum himself from a secure facility and watched closely as Blonsky was injected with the Serum. The serum was injected into his neck and spine, it caused him considerable pain but increased his strength and agility to superhuman levels.
When Leonard Samson, Betty Ross's new boyfriend, warned Ross that Bruce Banner had returned to Virginia. Boss seized the opportunity and his forces, super-powered Blonsky included, attacked at Culver University in an attempt to capture Banner. Ross uses all his men and his new weapons created by Stark Industries and caused a major battle with the Banner, who had transformed into the Hulk. Betty Ross screamed at her father but he would not listen. Eventually, Ross sent Blonsky to attack Hulk, although he was able to hold his own against the beast, he was eventually kicked in the chest by the Hulk and every bone in his body was broken. Seeing no other choice, Ross called for a helicopter to shoot at the Hulk, however, Betty was caught in the crossfire and nearly killed before Ross could call the Helicopter away, Hulk destroyed it and escaped with the unconscious Betty Ross, General Ross watched helplessly as he got away again. In need of new information about the Hulk's movements, Ross obtained the World Security Council's permission to extract the data from S.H.I.E.L.D.'s computers. A few hours later, Ross was confronted by Nick Fury himself. Ross told Fury that he was not going to leave the safety of the world in his hands.
Much to Ross' surprise, Emil Blonsky managed to recover very quickly from the wounds suffered in the battle with Bruce Banner, because of the Super Soldier Serum. Blonsky volunteered to go through the procedure again to increase his strength. General Ross managed to track Banner's accomplice and has his lab taken in custody by the Army. Ross discovered Banner's and Betty's whereabouts had Banner shot with a tranquilizer rifle and took them both into custody by a helicopter. Ross learned that Banner had tried and seemingly succeeded in destroying the Hulk from inside him, Ross warned Banner that if he had indeed killed the Hulk, then he would ensure Banner spent the rest of his life in prison.
Unknown to Ross, Blonsky went to Samuel Sterns' lab and forced him to inject him with Banner's DNA, which reacted with the Serum and transformed him into a Hulk-like monster. The Abomination caused terrible destruction in Harlem and called Ross to bring him a real fight, hinting he intended to fight and kill the Hulk. Banner volunteered to leap out of the helicopter and fight the Abomination. Ross reluctantly agreed and Banner successfully survived the fall and transformed into the Hulk once again.
Use that thing, soldier! Give him some help! (Soldier: Which one?!) Help the green one, damn it! Which one do you think? Cut the other one in half!!
~ General Ross ordering his soldiers to help the Hulk defeat Abomination.
Ross watched the battle between the Hulk and the Abomination from his helicopter. When the Abomination seemed to be gaining an advantage against the Hulk, Ross ordered his gunman to help the Hulk by shooting Blonsky, who retaliates by grabbing the helicopter in mid-air and causing it to crash. Only Ross and his daughter survived the crash, as both were saved by having other soldiers using their bodies to shield them from the impact. As Betty attempted to move her father out of the wreckage, the Helicopter caught fire due to leaking fuel, the Hulk clapped his hands together, blowing out the flames, saving Betty and the General's lives. Their lives were put into danger again when Blonsky tried to destroy the helicopter, but their lives were saved once again when the Hulk strangled the Abomination nearly to death. Betty Ross was able to convince Hulk not to kill the Abomination and instead he left him unable to move, with the battle over, Ross silently ordered his men to stand down. At the end of the battle, the Hulk turns over the defeated Abomination to Ross, who allows the Hulk to escape while taking Blonsky into custody for his crimes.
Tony Stark: What if I told you We were making a team together? General Ross:Who's We?'
~ Tony Stark and General Ross about the Avengers Initiative
In the aftermath of the battle and following Blonsky's arrest, General Ross drowned his sorrows in a bar by drinking and smoking. To try and save face, the World Security Council informed S.H.I.E.L.D. that they want to make Blonsky a member of the Avengers, putting the blame on Banner for the Harlem incident in order to keep Blonsky's reputation intact. However, S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Phil Coulson and Jasper Sitwell, knowing Blonsky's true evil nature, decided to send Stark to talk to Ross about the Avengers Initiative, as a patsy to prevent Ross from letting Blonsky join the Avengers. The talk ended up with Stark annoying Ross so much, that Ross angrily refused to release Blonsky and tried to have Stark removed from the bar. In reply, Stark bought the bar and scheduled it for demolition. As such, Blonsky remains in prison, much to both Coulson and Sitwell's relief.
Captain America Civil War
You operated with unlimited power and no supervision; that's something the world can no longer tolerate.
~ Thaddeus Ross to the Avengers.
Five years after chasing Bruce Banner, Ross was serving as the United States' Secretary of State. As the nations of the world sought to impose greater accountability on super-heroes, including the Avengers, due to the events in Sokovia, Ross approached Captain America to present him with a copy of the Sokovia Accords explaining that there is a disagreement about whether the Avengers should be considered heroes or vigilantes and that the "unlimited" power with which they have operated could no longer be tolerated.
After the Clash of the Avengers, Wanda Maximoff, Scott Lang, Clint Barton and Sam Wilson were captured and taken to the Raft. There they were thrown into individual cells. Tony Stark later flew to the Raft and was met by Ross. Stark then went to speak to the prisoners and secretly knocked out the audio feed so he could privately speak to Wilson and find out the location of Steve Rogers so he could help him. Following the arrest of Helmut Zemo (who is revealed to be the one responsible for the Vienna bombings that caused the clash within the Avengers in the first place), the prisoners were later freed by Captain America, much to Ross' great fury.
However, Lang and Barton offered a deal with Ross: they would be put in house arrest so that they would spend more time with their families, a proposal that Ross willingly accepted.
Avengers: Infinity War
Ross is seen as a hologram discussing to Rhodes about capturing the Avengers who escaped from his prison, only to witness them heading over Rhodes' place in person. Rogers informed Ross about an incoming alien warlord named Thanos, who's planning to collect all six Infinity Stones to wipe out half of the universe's populace and that Ross and his people at the Department of Defense must put aside their differences so that they can prepare to fight back against Thanos and his army of the Black Order and Outriders. However, Ross refuses to believe this and instead demands Rhodes to arrest the Avengers, but Rhodes decides to aid the Avengers, knowing that he would be court-martialed for defying Ross' orders.
It's currently unknown if Thunderbolt Ross had perished by Thanos' death wave or not. But even if he did survive it, his daughter Betty was among the victims who died by the wave, much to Ross' distraught.
Following the death and defeat of Thanos and all his forces and the undoing of the death wave (which may resulted Betty to be revived back to life), Ross makes a cameo appearance as one of the many characters attending Iron Man's funeral. Given to the fact that many Avengers (including the Winter Soldier and the Hulk) are also attending the funeral and that Ross doesn't seem to mind their presence as he is paying his respects towards Iron Man, it might be a possibility that he has abandoned his opposition towards the Avengers for good.
General Thaddeus Ross is a highly experienced soldier and Vietnam War veteran.
Master Tactician: Ross is a general; he is in a leadership position in the military and trained to command people. Ross coordinated his unit on how to attack the Hulk without being present personally. He also knows how to find allies to help his cause who can provide the right equipment and personnel. Ross knows when to change tactics based on the situation; he made Bruce Banner, a perceived foe, an ally for him to battle Emil Blonsky.
Uniform: Ross uses two different uniforms, the Army Service Dress uniform and the utility uniform.
Leterrier cast Hurt because, Ross is more physical, more explosive in this movie, and no actor goes from zero to 100 as well as William. The Hulk is Hurt's favorite superhero, and his son is also a big fan of the character. Hurt found production very different from the typical pure anxiety of a studio film, finding it more akin to an independent film. He described Ross as humiliated as Hulk's conscience: "he actually sees and recognizes that its more developed than his own, even though he's a patriot and a warrior for his country. He's sacrificed [much] for that purpose, but at the expense at times of his humanity - which he occasionally recovers" Sam Elliott who played Ross in the first film, would have liked to reprise the role, nothing it was odd seeing someone take this part, "but I'll be looking forward to seeing this one".
In the comics, Ross himself eventually becomes a Hulk and Banner's enemy and opposite; the Red Hulk.