For all the complaining that comic book fans do, they really have to take a nice hard look in the mirror and realize how good they’ve had it. Sure there are the superhero movies that make you want to bash your head against the wall like Batman V Superman, X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Steel, but the genre has produced enough smashing successes that I would say the superhero movie has earned the success it’s now enjoying. One of the biggest reasons why the genre has become such a smashing success though has to be the casting of its main characters.
Comic book superheroes are extraordinarily difficult to pull off well. Most of them have been in print for decades and fans already have their own pre-conceived notions of how the big-screen versions should walk, talk and act. Sometimes an actor tries to emulate what fans want and other times it seems like they take the character in different directions than what we thought of. Sometimes it works out and sometimes you get Nicolas Cage as Ghost Rider.
So now I’m going to take this time to discuss the top 15 superhero movie portrayals of all time and before anyone rages at me, I must make some clear rules for this.
1) I’m talking strictly about full-length feature films. That means any Marvel Netflix shows aren’t going to be considered for this list. I know I know, it kills me that I can’t add Jessica Jones to this list.
3) These must be live action portrayals, which means no Kevin Conroy as Batman or any other DC Animated Universe portrayals.
15. Dave Batista as Drax
Few would have expected the former pro wrestler to be such a knockout as Drax The Destroyer in Guardians of The Galaxy. Sure he may have looked the part, but as plenty of films will show you, wrestlers don’t always make the jump from the ring to the silver screen so well. Luckily, Batista did.
One of the funniest characters in a superhero movie, Batista portrayed Drax as a humourless alien warrior hell bent on killing Ronan The Accuser. The planet where he’s from is completely literal, which leads Drax to being unable to detect sarcasm, metaphors or anything fun in conversation. Thankfully that makes for amazing humour and a great contrast to Star Lord.
14. Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch
Only one of the Maximoff twins survived the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron and thankfully for audiences, Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch proved to be worth keeping around.
Starting off as a villainess, the female Maximoff eventually found herself on the side of good after learning of Ultron’s plans for killing off the human race. Olsen‘s performance as the movie goes on works well as I think audiences really start rooting for her during Hawkeye’s pep talk.
It gets even better in Civil War where Olsen and Paul Bettany’s Vision share the best romantic scene so far in the MCU while discussing the finer points of cooking. Her inner anguish has also handed a ton of emotion to her badass moments like sending Vision through a high-rise building and ripping Ultron’s core processor from his body.
13. Chris Hemsworth as Thor
Chris Hemsworth definitely looks the part of the God of Thunder. Tall, handsome and rocking flowing blonde hair, Hemsworth looks like the Son of Odin but does he act the part? Yes, yes he does.
Debuting in 2011’s Thor, Hemsworth initially nailed the role as an arrogant, jackass warrior whose brashness ends up reigniting a war between the Frost Giants and the Gods of Asgard. Sent powerless to Earth, Thor continues to act like a pompous asshole but now since he has no power he has to learn respect.
The memorable part of the performance is how Thor has grown over the course of the MCU. Initially in for the thrill of combat, Thor has now become one of the most heroic and noble Avengers on the roster. He’ll still crack a joke every so often though and Hemsworth’s well-rounded performance makes his Thor one to remember.
12. Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow
Though the genre is beloved by the masses, few would argue that superhero movies are kind of a sausage party. There have been only a few superheroines on the big screen and even fewer good ones. Thankfully we have Scarlett Johansson‘s Black Widow to break the mold.
Debuting in 2010’s Iron Man 2, Johansson didn’t have much to do in that film but it’s in her next few movies where she was able to show off her acting skills. We learn in the two Avengers movies and Captain America: The Winter Soldier that Natasha Romanov has quite a dark past. Romanov is the way she is because of the intense training she received as part of the KGB. While this has granted her all the physical skills anyone could ever want, it has left her scarred and emotionally distant which leaves her little time to form personal relationships.
11. Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool
If one were to look at Ryan Reynolds, you would think he would make much more sense as a classical DC hero like Green Lantern than Deadpool. I mean, Reynolds is an Adonis and Deadpool is a hideous freak, so how would Reynolds pull off being the merc with a mouth? Well, he would pull it off magnificently. And I’m not talking about his role as Barakapool in X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
The Deadpool movie may have lacked a compelling villain but it makes us forget about that because of Reynolds’ magnetic screen presence. Of course, he hits all the humour points that Deadpool fans would want in a movie, but he also touches on Wade Wilson’s human side that fans of the comic book character know exists. It’s a shame we won’t see Deadpool cross over into the MCU, but at the very least it gives us a reason to care about Fox’s superhero movies for a little while longer.
10. Jackie Earle Hayley as Rorschach
Moon Knight might be the most psychotic superhero around, but Watchmen’s Rorschach could easily give him a run for his money. Viewing the world in entirely black and white, Rorschach is a character that refuses to make compromises and makes the criminals pay for their actions in the worst way possible. This violent, caged animal would be portrayed brilliantly by Jackie Earle Hayley.
It would be easy for someone to portray Walter Kovacs as a straight badass but wasn’t what the character is supposed to be. He is a vengeful, bubbling ball of hate that had a horrible childhood. In every scene he is in you can see Hayley is about to reach out and rip your throat out. He’s a cool character for sure, but never to the point where cool becomes his main personality trait.
Despite all of his faults, you can definitely sense in the character that Rorschach is doing what he thinks needs to be done to serve justice. He is the stubborn bastard who you kind of hate but respect at the same time. A unique character in superhero movies for sure, and also one of the best.
9. Paul Bettany as Vision
Paul Bettany’s Vision has had less than half an hour of screen time so far in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Despite the lack of time given to the British actor, the android Avenger has stolen every scene he is in.
Right from the moment that Vision burst out of his pod in Avengers: Age of Ultron, Bettany had movie audiences eating out of the palm of his hand. His stoic demeanour puts him at a great contrast to his philosophical monologues about life and everyone who watched Vision lift Thor’s hammer for the first time remembers how big of a moment that was. Not even the heart of the MCU Captain America was able to do that (more on him later).
In Captain America: Civil War we got more of a comedic edge to Vision as he struggles to acclimate to human behaviour while pursuing a romance with Scarlet Witch. Look for the holder of the Mind Stone to continue his development in the next Avengers film.
8. Ron Perlman as Hellboy
If you’re playing a character from Hell, it might be hard to really give him an edge of humanity. But where a lesser actor might have failed at this, Ron Perlman‘s Hellboy absolutely soars in the role.
A gruff looking bruiser in and out of the Hellboy makeup, Perlman sells himself as a badass but not a heartless one. He has a great affinity for cats and Perlman seems to have a good time in the role, not going for the traditional grimness that might come with a character like this.
He’s rough around the edges but he has so much charm that you find yourself forgiving him for any faults he might have. Rumours of a third Hellboy movie always persist but even if the fans don’t get the trilogy making film Perlman has already defined himself in the genre.
7. Christian Bale as Batman
With four actors (not counting the early film serials) playing Batman prior to Christian Bale, Bale had to forge a new version Batman for modern times. While it wasn’t perfect, Bale nailed it pretty well.
The Nolan trilogy decides to build its Batman from the ground up rather than Bruce Wayne being entrenched in his Batman role from the start. This allows the audience to see the development and motivation for becoming Batman more than any other one before. We see Bale be a violent young man who fully intends to murder his parents’ killer before deciding on the heroic path as Batman.
Unlike most versions of Batman, Bale’s Bruce Wayne is the true identity while Batman is the mask. Personally, I don’t agree with this choice, but I do give respect to Bale’s Batman for always pushing the limits on his tech and resources to fight crime.
6. Michael Keaton as Batman
Tweet at me if you dislike my ranking of Keaton’s Batman above Bale’s but Michael Keaton‘s portrayal of the Dark Knight is the closest thing we’ve seen to the classic version of the character in a film.
Unlike Bale’s version of Bruce Wayne who is still in development of his Batman persona and shows a desire to move on from his life as Batman, Keaton relishes in his role as Gotham’s protector. He is sure of himself and his mission which is always going to be his number one goal. It’s not that he doesn’t have the desire for companionship and romance, but it’s always going to take a back seat.
In the Nolan trilogy, Batman in the press is a central point of The Dark Knight but Keaton’s Bruce Wayne and Batman are both recluses who prefer the darkness to the limelight. And while some fans criticize this interpretation of Batman for killing, the original version of the character killed all the time in the comics so there is a basis for it. Given that this was the first film series of Batman, I’ll give it a pass.
5. Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man
Everyone has their own ideas of what Spider-Man is supposed to be but for my money, Tobey Maguire pulled off the most accurate interpretation of Peter Parker so far in a film.
Peter Parker has to be one of the hardest superhero roles to pull off. An actor has to be able to pull off being a weak, socially awkward nerd who transforms into a smartass crimefighter when he attains spider powers. Maguire pulled this off perfectly by being heroic, good-hearted person with his own sense of style while still being socially awkward enough that he doesn’t come off as a badass.
He cries, he contorts his face into weird expressions and he can’t always read a situation properly but you know what? That’s exactly what Peter Parker is supposed to be. While Tom Holland will likely be great in Spider-Man: Homecoming, it’s hard to beat the classic version of Spidey portrayed by Tobey Maguire in Sam Raimi‘s trilogy.
4. Hugh Jackman as Wolverine
Stop me if you heard this one before. An actor is cast in the role of an iconic superhero who has been in print for decades and fans freak out over his casting. Sometimes those angry fans are proven right (Nicolas Cage as Ghost Rider anyone?) but other times they’re proven dead wrong. They were never more wrong than when they complained over Hugh Jackman‘s casting as Wolverine.
A short, stocky, hairy freak in the comics, the 6’2 handsome Jackman had his work cut out for him right from the start. But over the course of several movies, Jackman showed the world that he had what it took to portray Marvel’s most popular mutant. He’s the (really) old grandfather of the X-Men who could kick your ass without batting an eye. He’s super rough around the edges but you can totally understand why women would fall for the guy.
3. Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man
You know an actor has done an excellent job as a superhero when he takes a long established character, puts his unique take on it and nobody is bothered by it. Even better, the fans embrace this new version. Well, that’s exactly what Robert Downey Jr. did as Iron Man.
Injecting Tony Stark with a sense of flair and wit not seen often in the comics before took on the role, Downey pressed his thumb down onto one of Stan Lee’s famous creations and made it his own. He’s a badass, a smart ass and just an ass all at once but he’s just so damn good that you can’t help but like the guy. His actions might be highly questionable at times, but you know that it is fueled by a desire to protect the world and pay back the world for his previous sins.
2. Christopher Reeve as Superman
I’ll go on record and say that I’ve never seen a live action Superman movie that I liked. I find them all to have various degrees of bad but even I have to admit that Christopher Reeve in the role of Superman is a benchmark of the genre.
The first actor to ever portray the Man of Steel in a full-length feature film, Reeve was the first of his kind and only had the comic books and the radio serials to go by for inspiration but he nailed it perfectly. Reeve had the uncanny ability to play the bumbling Clark Kent and then flip over to playing the most powerful hero without batting an eye. Think of it this way, he was so good at playing both roles that you almost bought the glasses disguise. Almost.
Reeve could show off anger, sadness and inspire joy in audiences even forty years after the first Superman movie. The fact that no other actor to play the role since has come close to Reeve’s performances shows you just how good the original Superman really was. Just as Superman is the first superhero, Reeve was the first great superhero actor and is still the best to this day. Until a certain super soldier entered the picture…
1. Chris Evans as Captain America
To the casual onlooker, Captain America may seem like an easy character to portray, but he really isn’t. He is not some kind of jingoistic trigger happy soldier but an honest to God patriot who believes in freedom and liberty for all. These “old-school” values put him at odds with the modern world around him and who looks more like a vintage Hollywood movie star than Chris Evans?
Evans could have gotten by in the role just on looks alone, but thank the heavens he didn’t. Evans is the heart of Marvel Cinematic Universe, when the heroes look down and things look even worse, Evans is the commanding voice of inspiration. Just like Coulson said in the Avengers: “People might just need a little old-fashioned.”
Evans was so good in his role as Captain America that you completely forgot that he played the cocky S.O.B Johnny Storm in the original Fantastic Four film series. He is the definitive All-American superhero of this generation and my pick for the number one best superhero movie portrayal of all time.