Comic book movies have become one of the most popular genres in Hollywood, and with good reason. The likes of Marvel Studios, Sony Pictures, 20th Century Fox and Warner Brothers have pumped billions of dollars into the genre over the past couple of decades and their efforts have borne fruit quite spectacularly.
Such movies have the advantage of having an established fan base from the source material on which they’re based – comic books, of course. That means the characters already have established personalities and traits, and that fans’ expectations are set high.
With that in mind, casting them isn’t always easy and often fails – the likes of Julian McMahon as Doctor Doom, Vinnie Jones as Juggernaut and Wes Bentley as Blackheart are examples of that. In fact, it’s quite a rare achievement to get the perfect actor for a comic book movie role.
Note that the right casting doesn’t just mean a strong performance; there are many questions to consider when assessing the best comic book castings. Was the actor an obvious pick that met fan expectations? Or was it a questionable choice that turned out to be a pleasant surprise for fans? Did the actor do justice to the comic book source material? These are sixteen actors who were truly all-round inspired choices for the comic book characters they portrayed.
16. Dave Bautista (Drax)
Who would ever have thought that former WWE wrestler Dave Bautista – AKA Batista – would make a decent Drax the Destroyer? Well, Marvel Studios did – and the risk undoubtedly paid off.
The 46-year-old, whose previous film roles had amounted to a small role in Riddick and a bunch of straight-to-DVD offerings like The Scorpion King 3: Battle for Redemption, came into the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy and did a fantastic job.
He portrayed the vengeful green alien brilliantly and conveyed the character’s inability to understand metaphors (he took everything literally) to perfection. He will be back in Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and the Infinity War movies.
15. Ron Perlman (Hellboy)
Even in 2004, Ron Perlman didn’t seem like the obvious choice to play the lead role in a superhero movie. He was 54 at the time of Hellboy’s release, but he played the character to a T – right down to the physical ass-kickings he so often dished out.
That being said, he already had the laid-back attitude and necessary deep voice nailed on in his real-life persona – and the movie and its subsequent sequel in 2008 were both received well by critics, with Perlman’s performances obviously being key to that.
Ron Perlman is Hellboy. It’s hard to imagine anybody else in the role – and there’s talk of him reprising the role again, despite his 65 years.
14. Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury)
Classically, Nick Fury has been a white man in the comic books since his first appearance in 1963. However, he has been a black character in the Ultimate comic book timeline since 2002 and Marvel has used Samuel L. Jackson’s likeness (with his permission) since then.
In 2008, Jackson was actually cast as Fury in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and first appeared on screen as the character in the Iron Man post-credits scene. Whether or not you can truly call this “inspired”, given that the character already looked like Samuel L. Jackson, is debatable – but the fact is it was a great move.
Not only did Marvel Studios cast a man who looked the part, he has also portrayed Fury’s experience and authority with effortless gusto in seven movies to date.
13. Jack Nicholson (The Joker)
Jack Nicholson as The Joker has always seemed like something of an obvious choice – but for DC and Warner Brothers to actually have landed the actor back in 1989 was really quite inspired.
The first Tim Burton Batman movie was released at a time when comic book movies were hardly booming. The Superman franchise was the only true success in the genre to date and that had declined enormously. The cast for Batman had to be right.
Nicholson portrayed a truly wacky version of the Clown Prince of Crime and contributed enormously to the genre getting back on track. He was fantastic, but convincing him to do it in the first place was quite the achievement.
12. Patrick Stewart (Professor X)
Like Jack Nicholson, Patrick Stewart might have seemed like an obvious choice for Professor Charles Xavier in the X-Men movies (he is bald, after all…), but actually landing him for the role can’t have been easy and the way in which he has played the character has gone on to be fantastic.
Stewart has brought a calm assertiveness to the role that is absolutely essential to the X-Men mentor’s character. However, when the first X-Men movie was released in 2000, it’s not as if comic book movies were thriving (the Batman franchise had recently gone downhill and only Blade was really on top form), so to have brought in an actor of Stewart’s standing and talent was quite the coup.
Stewart has played Xavier six times to date, including two cameo appearances.
11. Chris Evans (Captain America)
“Hey, let’s bring in that guy who was pretty average as the Human Torch in those terrible Fantastic Four movies!” Whoever came up with that idea must have seemed a little bit crazy when the first Captain America movie was released in 2011 – but it has definitely proven to be a shrewd move.
The cocky Human Torch and the humble Captain America couldn’t be more different, but Chris Evans has made the latter role his own, having appeared in four movies to date (five if you include his brief cameo in Thor: The Dark World, when he was actually portraying Loki) and he will reprise the role next year in Captain America: Civil War.
Evans has the “kid from Brooklyn” attitude and goody-goody personality down to a T, but he also kicks ass brilliantly.
10. Chris Pratt (Star-Lord)
The chubby guy from Parks and Recreation as a superhero? You’ve got to be kidding, right? Well that’s exactly what the world got when Chris Pratt was cast as Star-Lord – essentially the lead role – in 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy. The funniest part about it? He was absolutely fantastic.
Pratt obviously had to get himself into much better physical shape for the role than he had ever previously been – but he dedicated himself to that cause 100%. Having done so, he performed the role in a likeable and hilarious way that made Guardians of the Galaxy a wholly enjoyable experience and he will continue to play Peter Quill in the sequel and future Marvel Cinematic Universe offerings like the Infinity War movies.
9. Tom Hiddleston (Loki)
Tom Hiddleston is undoubtedly a great actor – and at the time of the release of Thor in 2011 he was certainly quite obviously attainable for such a big franchise – but he really didn’t seem like an obvious candidate to portray Loki in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
More renowned for his stage work and performances in period films, Hiddleston is the quintessential British gentleman and, bizarrely, actually auditioned for the role of the titular Thor.
However, the people behind the movie saw past his audition and saw him as the ideal Loki – and what a good move that turned out to be. With his charm and subtle evilness, he has become one of the most popular characters in the hugely popular franchise, portraying the villain three times to date with more to come from him.
8. Wesley Snipes (Blade)
To this day, Hollywood seems inexplicably hesitant to put black men in lead roles in comic book movies (granted, it’s probably due to the fact that comic books have been known to be quite racist over the years, but it’s 2015 for goodness sake!). Black Panther is finally getting a solo movie in 2018, but given how successful a certain trilogy was not so long ago with a black lead, it’s difficult to understand why it took so long.
In 1998, Wesley Snipes was cast as Marvel’s vampire hunter Blade (and, given that Shaquille O’Neal had portrayed Steel just a year earlier, it’s understandable why it might have felt like a risk at the time). He was fantastic and the movie spawned the aforementioned trilogy that helped to kick-off the process that led to comic book movies being as popular as they are today.
Snipes’ intense performance was coupled with his ability to perform martial arts for real and it worked brilliantly.
7. Michael Keaton (Batman)
In 1989, Warner Brothers cast the comedian who played Beetlejuice as Batman. Stupid move, right? Wrong. Michael Keaton played Batman in Tim Burton’s two Dark Knight movies as well as anyone has played him to this day and set the stage for the modern comic book movie to be as popular as it is in 2015.
Keaton may not have the typical chiselled looks of a man who should be playing Bruce Wayne and his heroic alter-ego, but he played both sides of the persona to perfection – brilliantly embodying the brooding nature of Wayne and the determined nature of Batman.
When Joel Schumacher took the reins for the two subsequent Batman movies, the castings of Val Kilmer and George Clooney respectively only served to highlight how great Keaton was – and even Christian Bale didn’t quite reach the level that he did in Christopher Nolan’s trilogy.
The moral of this story? Give Ben Affleck a chance, guys!
6. Hugh Jackman (Wolverine)
Wolverine is a hugely popular character who has been a key member of both the X-Men and the Avengers in the comic books for many years. He is a short and stocky man with gruff, animalistic characteristics – so when the 6′ 2″ tall, handsome (and then-little-known) Australian actor Hugh Jackman first played him in 2000’s X-Men, eyebrows were understandably raised.
The role has turned Jackman into a global star and, in spite of not looking like the Wolverine of the comics, he has encapsulated the necessary traits of the character – his ruggedness, his animal instincts and his raw aggression – quite succinctly.
He has played the character seven times to date (including a brief cameo in X-Men: First Class) and will reprise the role in another Wolverine solo movie in the coming years.
5. Robert Downey, Jr. (Iron Man)
In spite of his past personal troubles, Robert Downey, Jr. was never really inactive as an actor, but when he was cast in the lead role of the Marvel blockbuster Iron Man in 2008, it was definitely a risk. It was his first starring role in a film of that magnitude since he had defeated his substance abuse demons and Marvel Studios put their faith in him to kick off their new franchise.
It paid off spectacularly. Downey, Jr. has been fantastic – iconic even – in the role of Tony Stark. His charisma, wit and screen presence have been integral to making the franchise the biggest in the world today – and he is the stand-out star of said franchise.
He has portrayed Stark in six movies to date (including his cameo in The Incredible Hulk) and will reprise the role in next year’s Captain America: Civil War and beyond.
4. Ian McKellen (Magneto)
To people who might not be familiar with Marvel comic books, Ian McKellen might seem like the obvious choice to play Magneto – especially now that he has made the role his own – but that’s really not the case.
In the comic books, Magneto is actually a hugely muscular man who really doesn’t look anything like McKellen, so it actually seemed like a strange casting initially. Plus, like Patrick Stewart, back in the year 2000, casting someone as talented and esteemed as McKellen in a comic book movie actually seemed quite ambitious – especially given that he had no real sci-fi experience prior to landing the role.
McKellen has, however, been fantastic as an authoritative and imposing mentor of rebellious mutants for five movies (including one cameo) and will reprise the role next year in X-Men: Apocalypse. Even though Michael Fassbender has portrayed the same character in his younger years, McKellen is undoubtedly the definitive Magneto.
3. Christopher Reeve (Superman)
Back in 1978, comic book movies as we know them didn’t really exist. There had been a couple – but certainly not on the scale of those we know today. Little was expected to change in that regard when a skinny, unknown actor was cast as Superman – but it changed everything.
Christopher Reeve doubted his own ability to portray the muscular hero – not to mention the fact that there were doubts from several people behind the movie – but he made the role his own and created the platform from which the comic book movies of today have become so successful.
Reeve portrayed a gentle and vulnerable hero, which was – in his own words – reflective of what had only just become acceptable for males. But he also portrayed Superman’s physical might convincingly and is still, arguably, the stand-out movie superhero to this day.
He played Superman four times (and, sadly, the movies got progressively worse).
2. Heath Ledger (The Joker)
When Heath Ledger was cast as The Joker in 2008’s The Dark Knight, the world collectively shuddered. Just how would that Brokeback Mountain guy who used to be in Home and Away portray the most iconic super-villain in comic book history?
The fact is, he did so – and he did so brilliantly. Ledger absolutely threw himself into the role – locking himself away for weeks to perfect the character’s craziness and unpredictability (probably to his detriment, all things considered).
Sadly, he died in January of 2008 – several months before The Dark Knight was released – via an accidental intoxication from prescription drugs. He would, therefore, never get to reprise the role. He did, however, win a posthumous Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance.
1. J.K. Simmons (J. Jonah Jameson)
No actor has embodied a character from any comic book as well as J.K. Simmons did with Daily Bugle editor J. Jonah Jameson in the Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy and, as such, his casting was truly inspired.
Starting with the first Spider-Man movie in 2002, Simmons was made up to look the double of the character as fans of the comics have known him for years. The buzz-cut and the moustache were spot-on and he had the character’s personality absolutely nailed down.
The brash and strict boss who secretly had a heart of gold, Simmons’ Jameson is arguably the best-cast character in comic book movie history.
So there you have it – the sixteen most inspired comic book movie castings of all time. Did you enjoy this article? Do you agree with the entries on this list? Which other comic book movie castings turned out to be particularly great moves? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.