Comic book movies did take a while to get serious actors involved. After all, a lot of actors are wary of dressing up in costumes for a role, no matter how much money is involved. However, things have changed, mostly thanks to the success of Marvel’s films and even some indie movies, which has convinced many an actor to take a shot at a comic book role. It helps that Marvel in particular has done some fantastic work with casting, not just for roles that are perfectly suited for an actor (Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Strange) but also those that appear off-beat but end up working brilliantly (Chris Evans as Captain America or Chris Pratt as Star-Lord). Many were doubtful of Tom Holland as Spider-Man but only a few minutes in Captain America Civil War proved he had the goods.
Sadly, not all castings work this well. Sometimes, a terrible script is unable to be salvaged by even the most talented of actors. But in many cases, the fault is in the acting and the person cast can turn in a performance far, far worse than expected. It’s one thing for a mid-level actor in a role they’re unsuited for but in some cases, you have respected, award-winning stars delivering utterly laughable performances. Most happen in terrible movies but a few occur in good ones too to make them more notable. It’s a big list in many ways but here are the 15 worst performances in comic book films and proof how casting is as key as writing in making these work.
15. Eric Bana – The Hulk
The early Marvel movies could be a bit hit and miss in quality. The Hulk has to rank firmly in the “miss” column. Having Ang Lee take on a superhero movie seemed a fun idea and his desire to focus on the psychology of the Hulk wasn’t a bad approach. Sadly, it was undermined by a poor script with terrible stuff (the “gamma dogs”) and not helped by a very poor selection of actors (even Jennifer Connelly seemed bored by all of this). Bana was the worst, his Bruce Banner just seeming out of it, not the genius of the man, not the tortured soul or a guy containing a monster within himself. Bana just looks…bored and that hurts the entire film. It’s not helped by how it takes the better part of an hour for the Hulk to actually show up and the detail of Banner’s frankly dull past just mars the entire movie. It’s no wonder Marvel had to reboot this five years later for more excitement as Lee’s take was too “thinking man” to work and Bana’s performance could best be described as “Bruce Blahner” and make this a major mistake for Marvel films.
14. Terrence Howard – Iron Man
Terrence Howard has proven himself a great actor who can show off an intense side, most notably in the hit series Empire. However, his casting as Jim Rhodes was a rare early misfire for Marvel’s current wave of films. Rhodey is a boisterous type, a good friend of Tony’s with his own tough attitude and believable as a soldier. Howard played it too soft and subdued, his Rhodey just not clicking as the tough soldier meant to be a key part of the mythos. The scene where he sees an armor and mutters “maybe next time” was meant to set him up as War Machine but Howard didn’t seem that excited about the role. As it turned out, Howard had a falling out with the studio over money and so was replaced by Don Cheadle, who many agree makes a far better Rhodes and War Machine. The movie was the hit that kicked off the current MCU but Howard was a weak link most are glad was replaced.
13. Seth Rogen – The Green Hornet
Pratt proved it’s possible that a chubby guy known for comedy roles can be a believable superhero. Sadly, Seth Rogen showed how it also doesn’t work. The idea of the Green Hornet has always been great, a crime-fighter pretending to be a crook to take down other criminals. However, Rogen just wasn’t a good choice for Britt Reid, way too joking and not at all believable as a guy who can handle a fistfight or carry himself in a car chase. It didn’t help that the Hornet was basically the sidekick of the far more capable Kato (Jay Chou) and having the main hero be a goofy moron isn’t the best way to kick off a franchise. Audiences just didn’t buy Rogen in this role at all and the movie failed to live up to expectations.
12. Julian McMahon – Fantastic Four
Doctor Victor von Doom is the single greatest villain in comic books. Brilliant, egotistical, a dark sense of honor but still utterly evil, Doom is famous for his iconic mask, his arrogance and able to be imposing in any medium. For some bizarre reason, he has never gotten his due on the big screen as the way he was worked in the first Fantastic Four movie was a massive failure. Julian McMahon played Doom with no accent, his voice soft where Doom is meant to be booming, subdued and slimy rather than arrogant and brilliant. Giving him energy powers and metal skin was just worse as the producers missed casting the handsome McMahon as Doom ruined so much of the character. True, a lot of bad to that movie and they tried to fix some of it in the sequel but McMahon playing Victor as just an angry guy rather than the brilliant figure he is basically doomed this movie right off the bat.
11. Halle Berry – Catwoman and X-Men
Halle Berry has proven herself as a truly great actress, Golden Globe and the first black woman to win the Oscar for Best Actress. With her talent and beauty, it’s no wonder she’d gravitate to comic book movies but her actual turns in them have been a bit rough. Many felt her casting as Storm wasn’t a good choice as in the first X-Men movie, Berry had an atrocious attempt at an “African” accent that was way too distracting and had to deliver the movie’s worst line (“Do you know what happens to a toad when it’s struck by lightning?”). Her turns in the sequels weren’t much better, as she looked great in the costume but didn’t possess the real strength and drive of Storm.
Of course, that role was top notch compared to Berry’s role in the infamous Catwoman. Wearing a costume that looked like little more than ripped leather, Berry went totally over the top with drinking milk, crawling around and more bits that had audiences laughing for the wrong reasons. Showing she was a good sport, Berry showed up in person to accept her Razzie award for “Worst Actress” for the movie.
10. Topher Grace – Spider-Man 3
After two fantastic entries, hopes were naturally high for Sam Raimi to provide another great entry in the comic book saga. The hopes were higher with how the movie would introduce Venom, one of Spider-Man’s most popular enemies. But the casting of Grace was one of the major missteps that doomed the sequel. In the comics, Venom is large and imposing, the bulky fighter to mirror Peter Parker’s lithe form and his insanity making him more dangerous. Grace had none of that build and his turn as Eddie Brock was less “future villain” and more “arrogant jerk,” slimy and not at all sinister, a laughable figure rather than a future monster. Even the CGI couldn’t help turn this Venom into a truly terrifying figure and Grace’s performance got more hammy as it went on. True, some rough stuff in this movie already (see Tobey Maguire’s ridiculous “dark Peter” arc) but Grace took one of the biggest names in Spidey’s rogues gallery and turned it into a forgettable wimp.
9. Kate Bosworth – Superman Returns
Superman Returns is a major missed opportunity. Bryan Singer could have offered a terrific fresh take to bring the Man of Steel into the 21st century. Instead, he made the film a direct sequel to the Richard Donner movies and the 1970s mentality didn’t work as well for 2006. Kevin Spacey was a great choice for Lex Luthor but wasted as the “killer real estate mogul” version. Brandon Routh made a good Superman but Kate Bosworth gave us arguably the worst Lois Lane of all time. Rather than the smart reporter with a good attitude, Bosworth seemed barely awake, her Lois soft and bitter to Superman, the chemistry between Bosworth and Routh non-existent. There was none of the spirit of Lois and spunky drive that wins you over, Bosworth (with a bad dark hairdo) horribly miscast and knew it, her turn as Lois the weak point of an already weak movie.
8. Matthew Goode – Watchmen
Debate rages on how good or bad Zack Snyder’s take on Alan Moore’s classic is. Some enjoy it for its faithfulness, others hate it for changing the ending, although we must agree Snyder did a good job bringing the saga to life. The cast is mostly strong yet the casting of Matthew Goode as Adrien Veidt aka Ozymandias is a major weak link. That’s bad because Veidt is the key character of the film, the cunningly powerful millionaire who’s the guy behind the major plot. This is a man of incredible genius and drive who’s ready to kill millions to bring about world peace and comes off an imposing, yet still a likeable figure. Goode plays the role totally flat, often sounding bored of the proceedings around him and not the cunning figure Veidt is meant to be. It doesn’t help he looks terrible in the costume and the fight scenes were obviously faked to make himself look better. The movie still retains the comics’ gut-punch ending but Goode’s performance weakens the impact.
7. The Entire Cast of Fantastic Four 2015
Someday, someone has to write a book on how this version of the Marvel comic turned into one of the most epic disasters of recent years. You can’t blame it totally on the actors, as between the studio interference and the way Josh Trank directed, the cast had a daunting task. However, it’s clear they just weren’t suitable, all way too dark and moody, not fitting the FF at all. Miles Teller’s Reed Richards is a gloomy guy who seems too arrogant. Kate Mara’s Sue Storm is too dry and you can tell which bits are her in a blonde wig for reshoots that she obviously hates. Michael B. Jordan’s casting as the Human Torch overwhelms an okay performance but not the same joy to the role Chris Evans brought. Jamie Bell has none of the humor of the Thing (not helped by the new history of an abused kid) and Toby Kebbell’s turn as Doctor Doom made Julian McMahon’s look terrific (seriously, Doom as a blogger?). The movie had so much going against it as it was but the way the actors played the roles without the real energy or drive of the FF helped seal its fate as a monster flop.
6. Alicia Silverstone – Batman and Robin
You have to feel for Alicia Silverstone. Thanks to Clueless, the gal was launched to the A-list of Hollywood, the offers flooding in – a great talent who seemed to have a strong career in front of her. Then, she decided to take on the role of Batgirl in Batman and Robin, and it all fell apart. To be fair, the background was rough (Barbara was not Gordon’s daughter but Alfred’s adoptive niece who literally stumbles into the Batcave) and the movie had plenty of issues as it was. Still, Silverstone just played the role badly, with not enough attitude and was pretty flat at times. The slams on her weight were a bit much but Silverstone sadly just didn’t click in the role at all and the movie’s failure ended up sending her career in a downturn. At least she can safely say that she did not deliver the worst performance in the film…
5. Uma Thurman – Batman and Robin
On paper, it should have worked. Uma Thurman had shown her sexiness and ability to show it off, so her casting as Poison Ivy seemed perfect. She looked terrific in stills with the red hair and the iconic costume, and most thought she would act circles around Arnie’s turn as Mr. Freeze. Instead, Thurman turned in a completely ludicrous performance that made her “vamping” totally laughable. Unable to decide whether to be adorable or just snapping out lines in a strange accent, Thurman turned Ivy (a woman meant to be to die for) into a mess that took ham acting to new levels and went all over the place in terms of a wild performance.
4. Samuel L. Jackson – The Spirit
Few comic book movies have spit on the source material like The Spirit. Will Eisner is hailed as a genius for his work with this amazing comic that blended clever storytelling, drama and humor nicely. Frank Miller decided to turn the whole thing into a low-rate Sin City that made it a total mess. The cast did their best but it was a losing effort to try and make this watchable. The worst had to be Samuel L. Jackson as the Octopus. In the comic, the Octopus was never actually seen, the mystery bad guy behind the mob and that worked out great. Casting Jackson was a bad move and made worse as he turned in one of his worst performances ever – totally cheesy, laughing, bizarre bits like wearing a Nazi uniform, constantly yelling for no reason…it was all over the place. While you can argue that fit the likewise terrible movie, it still ranks among Jackson’s worse roles and it’s amazing that the same man who brought us the cool of Nick Fury could deliver a role of such horrible proportions.
3. January Jones – X-Men First Class
In the comics, Emma Frost has moved from a pure villain to a key member of the X-Men but remains…well, let’s just say she’s quite the sassy type. The arrogant telepath with the ability to turn her skin diamond-hard, Emma loves to flaunt her body, constantly putting down people with insults and cares more for how good she looks than saving people. Despite that, she still wants to help others and prove herself to show her depth. In terms of looks, January Jones had Emma down pat and looked terrific in the 1960s garb for the move. That’s the only good stuff you can say as Jones appeared completely bored by the entire movie, her line readings completely flat, none of the wicked humor and attitude Frost should have. Jones may have thought the idea was to be cool but this crossed the line in an otherwise great movie. She may have looked the part but Jones couldn’t back it up, less a White Queen than a very bad pawn.
2. Tommy Lee Jones – Batman Forever
Two-Face is the most tragic of all of Batman’s foes. Once a trusted friend, D.A. Harvey Dent was warped by acid, turning into a maniac, obsessed with duality and a quite dangerous figure. Billy Dee Williams had played Dent in the first Batman movie and naturally figured he’d repeat the role. Instead, Tommy Lee Jones was cast because of his star power and proceeded to turn the character into a joke. It seemed Jones (who kept calling the character “Harvey Two-Face” in interviews) wanted to oust Jack Nicholson, turning Two-Face into a constantly chortling nut bag, chewing the scenery like there was no tomorrow, none of the pathos the character is known for. It did fit the overall theme of the first Schumacher movie but watching a character with so much potential turned into a laughable parody was sad. Thankfully, Aaron Eckhart would later give Two-Face the on-screen shot he deserved in The Dark Knight, but this is proof of what happens when Jones lets his inner ham take over too much.
1. Jessie Eisenberg – Batman v Superman
There are so many issues with the would-be kick-off to a DC Cinematic Universe, you can do an entire different list. However, the casting of Eisenberg as Lex Luthor has to rank high. This is the supreme baddie of the DCU, a cunning genius, power-hungry and always in control. Jessie Eisenberg decided to play the role as basically the Joker, which is the complete opposite of what Luthor is supposed to be. Joking, juvenile, bouncing around like he’s on a constant sugar rush, Eisenberg is a major distraction, and you just can’t take the idea seriously – that he’s capable of bringing Batman and Superman into conflict and manipulating everyone. It just gets more ridiculous with the ending, as he’s shaved bald and babbling of a greater evil coming. Eisenberg may have worked if he’d made Luthor the cold figure of the comics, but his decision to go for a “frat boy billionaire” ruined the character and thus hurt the entire movie.