These days, any actor worth their salt has generally appeared in a comic book movie at some point in their career. Such is the massive success and popularity of the genre, almost everyone is tempted to at least dip their toes into it to see what all the fuss is about – but only a select few end up reprising their roles several times or turning up in more than one franchise.
Whether it’s the thrill and enjoyment of being part of an action-packed comic book world, or whether it’s just the pull of the massive money the franchises generate, some actors have been tempted back to comic book movies on several occasions – with some even committing to multiple movie deals that last for several years.
But which actors have appeared in the most comic book movies? The likes of Ryan Reynolds are due to catch up with those on this list very soon, but this article will take a look at 20 of the most prolific examples to date in ascending order (with the movie criteria being that they must be theatrical, live action/non-voice roles and based on franchises that classically started life out as comic books).
20. Gwyneth Paltrow (4)
Gwyneth Paltrow has appeared as Tony Stark’s former assistant and current girlfriend Virginia “Pepper” Potts in four Marvel Cinematic Universe offerings to date – and those appearances go all the way back to 2008.
It’s probably fair to say that Potts isn’t one of the franchise’s more popular characters, but Paltrow has actually done a fairly decent job in the role as a supporting character in some of the more popular films released by Marvel Studios.
The movies in which she has appeared as Potts are Iron Man, Iron Man 2, The Avengers and Iron Man 3. Whether or not she will appear as the character again is not known, but she is definitely still in a relationship with Robert Downey, Jr.‘s character, as specified in last year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron.
19. Hayley Atwell (4)
The gorgeous British actress Hayley Atwell has now portrayed Captain America’s love interest – S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Elizabeth “Peggy” Carter – in four Marvel Cinematic Universe movies to date. Those movies go back to 2011.
Such is the character’s popularity, she even got her own Marvel One-Shot movie and a spin-off television series – both of which were called Agent Carter – and she has appeared as a young woman, a middle-aged woman and an elderly woman.
All in all, she has appeared in Captain America: The First Avenger, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man. Her character’s funeral is expected to take place in this year’s Captain America: Civil War.
18. Shawn Ashmore (4)
Shawn Ashmore has portrayed Bobby Drake AKA Iceman in the X-Men movie franchise since the first installment back in the year 2000. As a result, he’s ended up playing the character a total of four times to date.
He’s hardly been one of the most important characters in the series, but he’s interesting enough to be watchable and the movies would certainly be lacking something without him – his rivalry with Pyro was one of the better aspects of the poor X-Men: The Last Stand, for instance.
The movies he has portrayed the character in to date are X-Men, X2: X-Men United, X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men: Days of Future Past. He isn’t scheduled to appear as the character again, however, but he hasn’t been replaced either. It remains to be seen whether or not the latter fact is a good thing.
17. Clark Gregg (4)
The brilliant Clark Gregg has played the inimitable S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Phil Coulson in four Marvel movies to date, which earns him a place on this list. He was killed off in The Avengers – when Loki stabbed him through the heart from behind – and is unlikely to appear in a movie again, but that doesn’t mean we’ve seen the last of him.
The character was resurrected in order to become the star of the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. television series, and while that show is meant to be connected to the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe, the fact is that it is generally being kept separate from the movies – the major characters of the franchise don’t even know he’s alive again.
The four movies that Gregg has appeared in as Coulson are Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Thor and The Avengers, but he has also appeared in two Marvel One-Shots as the character – those being The Consultant and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor’s Hammer.
16. Chris Hemsworth (4)
Australian actor Chris Hemsworth is now one of the flagship characters of the insanely popular Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise, having taken on the role of Thor back in 2011. He has gone on to portray the character on a further three occasions.
The role has taken the actor from being a relative unknown to becoming a global superstar and his commitment to it is undeniable, given how much he bulked up to portray a character who is essentially a god among men.
The movies in which he has portrayed the character to date are Thor, The Avengers, Thor: The Dark World and Avengers: Age of Ultron. He will be reprising the role several times in the future, starting with 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok, which looks set to be one of the most exciting movies in the MCU so far.
15. Christopher Reeve (4/5)
Christopher Reeve portrayed arguably the most iconic comic book movie character of all time when he took on the role of Superman AKA Clark Kent back in 1978 – and it was a role he reprised three times, which earns him a place on this list.
It can be argued that Reeve’s Man of Steel paved the way for the comic book movies we know today, as it was the first time millions of dollars had been spent on a theatrical comic book adaptation.
Whether or not Reeve has actually appeared in four or five Superman movies is actually open to debate, as it depends on whether you believe 2006’s Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut is a completely separate entity to Superman II. Regardless, Reeve has appeared in Superman, Superman II (and the recent cut), Superman III and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.
14. Anna Paquin (4/5)
When it comes to Anna Paquin‘s comic book movie roles, it’s really up to you to decide whether or not she’s appeared in four or five of them, depending on whether you think “The Rogue Cut” of X-Men: Days of Future Past should be considered a completely different entity to the theatrically-released version of the movie.
Either way, Rogue AKA Marie is the only comic book character Paquin has ever played in a movie – it’s just that she’s been happy to reprise it several times (although whether or not she ever will again is open to debate).
The movies in which she has appeared as the character to date are X-Men, X2: X-Men United, X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men: Days of Future Past (as well as the aforementioned Rogue Cut, in which her role goes from a mere cameo to a far more prominent one).
13. Idris Elba (5)
Multi-talented British actor Idris Elba currently famously plays the all-seeing Heimdall in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – but that role isn’t the only one he’s played in a comic book movie.
In fact, Elba has actually portrayed no less than two other characters in comic book movies – although it’s fair to say that neither of them are as well-known as the Asgardian. He was Captain William Roque – an expert in detonating and deactivating explosives – in 2010’s The Losers and he was the priest known as Moreau in 2012’s terrible Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.
The complete list of his comic book movies comprises of Thor, The Losers, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, Thor: The Dark World and Avengers: Age of Ultron – the latter of which he simply appeared in Thor’s Scarlet Witch-induced vision.
12. Rebecca Romijn (5)
Rebecca Romijn is the first star on this list to have appeared as two different characters in two different comic book movie franchises – and they are roles that take her appearances in comic book movies up to a total of five.
Most prominently and famously, Romijn has portrayed the shape-shifting mutant Mystique AKA Raven Darkholme in four movies in the X-Men franchise (prior to being replaced by the younger Jennifer Lawrence for the prequel movies), but she also played Joan – a tenant in the building Frank Castle lived – in the 2004 Punisher movie.
To summaries, the five comic book movies in which Romijn has appeared are X-Men, X2: X-Men United, The Punisher, X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men: First Class (albeit in a very minor cameo in the case of the latter movie).
11. Famke Janssen (5)
Famke Janssen has portrayed a key character in the X-Men movie franchise on no less than five occasions since her first appearance in 2000’s X-Men. That character is the powerful psionic force that is Jean Grey – a leading member of the titular team.
Janssen’s Grey did actually go on to become a frighteningly formidable antagonist, thanks to the emergence of her alter-ego the Phoenix and the nefarious influence of Magneto, but she mostly portrayed the character as a heroic mentor.
The movies in which she appeared as Grey were X-Men, X2: X-Men United, X-Men: The Last Stand, The Wolverine and X-Men: Days of Future Past (with the latter two being very brief cameos). It seems very unlikely that she will ever reprise the role, as the younger Sophie Turner is taking over the role in 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse.
10. Ian McKellen (5)
Landing Ian McKellen for the first X-Men movie was a real coup for Fox – he’s a big part of the success of the ongoing franchise to date – but the fact that the acclaimed stage actor has gone on to reprise his role a further four times is even better for them.
That role is, of course, Magneto – arguably one of the most iconic comic book movie villains in the history of the genre – and McKellen has been consistently brilliant in the role. He’s been the key antagonist in the entire X-Men franchise, but looks to be stepping down, with Michael Fassbender taking on the role of the younger version of the character.
McKellen has appeared in X-Men, X2: X-Men United, X-Men: The Last Stand, The Wolverine and X-Men: Days of Future Past – the latter in which he shared the role with the aforementioned Fassbender.
9. Scarlett Johansson (5)
Scarlett Johansson is the first – and, sadly, probably the only – woman on this list who is set to play her most prominent comic book role again in the future. That role is, of course, the Black Widow AKA Natasha Romanoff in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – but it’s not actually the only comic book movie role she has had over the years.
The actress also appeared in the 2008 movie The Spirit, in which she portrayed the femme fatale scientist Silken Floss – a character who just so happened to be the naive accomplice of Samuel L. Jackson‘s Octopus (Jackson would, of course, go on to star alongside Johansson in the MCU).
All in all, Johansson has appeared in five comic book movies to date, those being The Spirit, Iron Man 2, The Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Avengers: Age of Ultron. She will reprise the role in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War and beyond.
8. James Marsden (5)
James Marsden is best-known in the world of comic book movies for his portrayal of the X-Men’s field-leader Cyclops AKA Scott Summers in the X-Men movie franchise, but he has also played a character in a DC movie, which brings his total number of comic book movie appearances up to five.
He played Richard White – nephew of the Daily Planet editor-in-chief Perry White and fiancé to Lois Lane – in 2006’s underwhelming Superman Returns movie. It’s definitely a role that is far more forgetful than that of Cyclops.
His entire catalogue of comic book movie roles includes X-Men, X2: X-Men United, X-Men: The Last Stand, Superman Returns and a cameo in X-Men: Days of Future Past. As things stand, it looks unlikely that he’ll be appearing in another one any time soon.
7. Halle Berry (5)
Halle Berry has portrayed two comic book movie roles that really couldn’t be any more different – the X-Men’s Storm AKA Ororo Munroe and Catwoman AKA Patience Phillips (the latter of which was a horrible adaptation of a classic character, who was barely recognisable from the comic books).
Her performance as Storm has been extremely popular with fans, as she first played the character in the year 2000 and last did so fourteen years later – although she is set to be replaced by Alexandra Shipp in 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse, as a younger cast takes over the mantles of their elders.
In total, Berry has appeared in five comic book movies, with those being X-Men, X2: X-Men United, Catwoman, X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men: Days of Future Past (the latter of which was nothing more than a cameo appearance).
6. Patrick Stewart (6)
Like the aforementioned McKellen, for Fox to land the esteemed Patrick Stewart to play a major part in their X-Men movie franchise was a real coup for them – and Stewart has reprised his role on five occasions since his first appearance in 2000, which is a key reason for the franchise’s success.
It is, of course, Professor Charles Xavier that Stewart has portrayed – the leader of the X-Men himself – and the Brit has been wonderful in the role since the very beginning. He has recently been sharing the role with James McAvoy, however, and looks to be stepping down from it from now on.
The movies in which he has appeared as the character are X-Men, X2: X-Men United, X-Men: The Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, The Wolverine and X-Men: Days of Future Past – the latter in which he shared the role with the aforementioned McAvoy.
5. Robert Downey, Jr. (6)
Robert Downey, Jr. is currently the iconic star of the comic book movie scene – so it’s barely any wonder that he’s reprised said iconic role in five movies since his debut. His debut was, of course, in 2008’s Iron Man – the movie that kicked off the phenomenally popular franchise that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Such is Downey, Jr.’s popularity that he reportedly commanded a humongous fee of $40 million for his appearance in 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron – a fee that dwarfed those of every other member of the cast – and he has been the star of every movie he has appeared in to date, even as part of A-list ensembles.
The movies in which he has appeared to date as Iron Man AKA Tony Stark are Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk (cameo), Iron Man 2, The Avengers, Iron Man 3 and Avengers: Age of Ultron. He will reprise his role in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War and beyond – and he’s also portrayed Stark in archive footage in the Marvel One-Shot The Consultant.
4. Hugh Jackman (7)
Hugh Jackman is the highest-placed actor on this list to have only ever portrayed one comic book character on screen, with the Australian having played his iconic role as Wolverine on no less than seven occasions.
Starting in the year 2000 – when his casting, as a then-relative unknown, was actually extremely controversial – Jackman has made the role of Wolverine his own and become the flagship character of the X-Men franchise, in spite of the fact that it boasts a plethora of superstar performers.
The complete list of movies in which Jackman has portrayed the character is as follows; X-Men, X2: X-Men United, X-Men: The Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, X-Men: First Class (in a mere cameo), The Wolverine and X-Men: Days of Future Past. He will reprise the role in the future, but is expected to step down very soon after that.
3. Samuel L. Jackson (8)
Legendary actor Samuel L. Jackson has appeared in a total of eight comic book movies – all of which were in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury, apart from one.
Jackson also portrayed the villainous Octopus in 2008’s The Spirit – a movie in which he worked alongside the aforementioned Johansson – but that particular appearance is quite forgetful in comparison to his more prominent efforts as Fury.
All in all, Jackson has appeared in Iron Man (post-credits scene), The Spirit, Iron Man 2, Thor (post-credits scene), Captain America: The First Avenger, The Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Avengers: Age of Ultron. He even reprised the role of Nick Fury on television in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. While he isn’t scheduled to reprise his role as Fury any time soon, he surely will at some point in the future.
2. Chris Evans (9)
Chris Evans is a highly-prolific comic book actor, having appeared in no less than three different franchises as three different characters – a set of experiences that has resulted in a total of nine comic book movie appearances to date.
Of course, his most prominent – and current – role is that of Captain America AKA Steve Rogers in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but he has also played the Human Torch AKA Johnny Storm in the first cinematic Fantastic Four movies, as well as Jake Jensen in The Losers.
The complete list of Evans’ comic book movie appearances is as follows; Fantastic Four, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, The Losers, Captain America: The First Avenger, The Avengers, Thor: The Dark World (uncredited cameo), Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man (post-credits scene appearance). He will reprise the Captain America role in 2016 in Captain America: Civil War and beyond.
Note: It could also be argued that Evans’ appearance as Lucas Lee in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World was a comic book movie appearance, but it was based on a graphic novel, rather than a traditional comic book series (and he’d still be second on this list regardless).
1. Stan Lee (23)
When you think of Stan Lee, “actor” isn’t the first descriptive word that springs to mind, but the fact is the legendary Marvel writer has a lengthy acting history dating all the way back to 1973 – and it happens to include no less than twenty-three roles in theatrically-released comic book movies.
Of course, every single one of those movies is based on a Marvel property, and it has now become almost customary to expect him to appear in some capacity – generally just in the form of a cameo – in any given offering based on Marvel characters (although there have been a few notable exceptions).
The full list of comic book movies Stan Lee has appeared in is as follows; X-Men, Spider-Man, Daredevil, Hulk, Spider-Man 2, Fantastic Four, X-Men: The Last Stand, Spider-Man 3, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, The Avengers, The Amazing Spider-Man, Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man. He will no doubt continue to cameo in future Marvel offerings.
For the record, he has also appeared in the television movie The Trial of the Incredible Hulk, the spoof mockumentary film called Comic Book: The Movie, and voiced characters in the likes of Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV and Big Hero 6.