Playing a superhero for a Marvel or DC film these days seems to be any actor’s lifelong dream, but that wasn’t always the case. Before the Marvel Cinematic Universe came along, superhero films were just entertaining at best. They were one shot productions (with potential sequels) that were either good for what they were or so bad that they needed to be killed with fire. I’m looking at you, Spider-Man 3.
However, now that superheroes are practically everywhere in the film and TV industries, there are a lot of names we’ve come to recognize either in reverence or infamy. Big actors like Benedict Cumberbatch, Ben Affleck, Jason Momoa, Chris Evans, Ryan Reynolds and more have all gotten a huge boost thanks to their popularity in recent superhero movies as well as some that are soon to be made.
Not all actors benefited from their time as a superhero, though. Some played a hero or villain, and then were practically never heard from again, or went on to star in much smaller productions. Any good conspiracy theorist would tell you that the careers of these actors were ruined by being part of a superhero film. You’ll be shocked to find out that it wasn’t even necessarily because they did a poor job in their performances. Simply put, they just really got unlucky breaks.
Here are ten actors whom we all recognize, but have seen a lot less of since they played in a comic book movie.
10. Brandon Routh – Superman
Superman Returns (love it or hate it) wasn’t the best movie about the Man of Steel ever made, but you have to give it credit for at least pretending that Superman 3 and Superman 4 never existed. The star of the film, Brandon Routh, was unfortunately ill-received because he couldn’t quite reach the bar set by Christopher Reeve. This would normally be an unfair judgment, but considering that the movie was a direct sequel to Superman 2, it seems all too fitting. Since then, Routh hasn’t done much work but has recently found a small TV home playing the Atom on DC’s Legends of Tomorrow.
9. Eric Bana – The Hulk
Remember that old 2003 Hulk movie directed by Ang Lee? Unfortunately, I sure do. It was Universal’s attempt at making their own good superhero movie, and man, did it disappoint. Full of cheesy lines, convoluted backstories, and a poorly rendered Hulk, the movie performed terribly. The man who played Bruce Banner himself, Eric Bana, was equally panned for his odd performance and was easily outdone by his villain. All plans for a sequel were canceled, and eventually Universal sold the film rights for the Hulk back to Marvel, paving the way for the Hulk to be a staple of the Avenger movies.
8. Alicia Silverstone – Batgirl
Batman and Robin is a pretty terrible movie with little to no redeeming qualities about it. In the aftermath of the movie, many of the actors (who aren’t terrible actors) had to pay the consequences for its poor reception. One of those actors was Alicia Silverstone, who played Barbara Gordon. Since that movie, she quickly downgraded to voicing cartoons and having bit parts in movies that I’ve never heard of. It’s a hard fall considering how widely loved and popular she was in the 1990s. She was one of those women who was looked up to by many young girls, and now, barely anyone knows her name.
7. Dolph Lundgren – The Punisher
Before Jon Bernthal came around and made the Punisher a phenomenal success for Marvel, we had a 1990 film starring Dolph Lundgren. At the time, he had a pretty good track record up until that point. He was the only on-screen Punisher to not have the signature skull on his vest, and he lived in a sewer. To make matters even worse, his performance was so mundane that it took everything out of what made the Punisher so initially interesting as a character in the first place. After that movie, Dolph has been in the Expendables, which is a franchise that prides itself in having washed up actors.
6. Tobey Maguire – Spider-Man
I’m not a huge fan of the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man trilogy. Do I think he did a bad job? Not in the first two movies. His take on the wall crawler just wasn’t for me. Now I challenge you to name three movies that he has been in since his days as Peter Parker. Only The Great Gatsby comes to mind for me, and that’s about it. After Spider-Man 4 was canceled, Sony decided to reboot the character, and left Maguire without a job. He’s dabbled in poker and producing since then, but only time will tell if he will have a revival.
5. Chris O’Donnell – Robin
And here we have another poor actor’s career ruined by the travesty that is Batman and Robin. While he isn’t without a job, I’m going to make this plain and simple. This is a man who was so good at acting, that he won a Golden Globe Award. His portrayal of Robin was so bad that he got pushed to B-list movies and guest roles in various TV shows. Currently he has a spot in NCIS: Los Angeles, but nothing he’s done since his days in Gotham come close to Golden Globe worthy.
4. Edward Norton – The Hulk
Somebody please explain to me what was so hard about the Hulk as a character that made it difficult for actors to get right. Now to Norton’s credit, I believe he did a much better job than Bana, but it wasn’t enough to save the movie. After the huge success that was the first Iron Man movie, Marvel was hoping to bring in more revenue with an Incredible Hulk film set in the same universe. Unfortunately, it was largely a disappointing addition and didn’t bring in the cash like they wanted. Rumors of friction between Norton and Marvel were dropped, and then somehow, the role went to Mark Ruffalo. Seems legit.
3. Michael Keaton – Batman
Here is probably the only rare case on this list where Keaton actually had a great performance in a great movie. Then, after choosing not to make a third appearance as Batman, the best films he had to his name were animated flicks like Toy Story 3. He was sidelined to play supporting characters in other movies until he did Birdman– which was a movie centered around a washed up actor who played an amazing superhero in the past. That movie was a clear picture of what playing Batman did to Keaton’s career.
2. Topher Grace – Venom
While the other actors on this list I know pretty well in their work both before and after their time in comic book worlds, Topher Grace is the only one whom I’ve seen no trace of since he played Venom in Spider-Man 3. I mean, it would be pretty unforgivable to take one of Spider-Man’s most beloved baddies and make him uninteresting to watch. He was more like an angsty brat than the terrifying symbiote he was supposed to be. Since then Grace’s career has essentially disappeared from existence, as he has only had minor roles in productions nobody has heard of.
1. Val Kilmer – Batman
I so desperately wanted to put George Clooney on this list to complete the trifecta of Batman and Robin, but since his appearances in Gravity and Tomorrowland, I just couldn’t. Kilmer was in the Batman film before Batman and Robin, and while it’s not as bad, it’s still not good. And Kilmer wasn’t the worst Batman either, but he didn’t have the reputation of Clooney to save him. After Batman Forever, the most noteworthy film Kilmer starred in was Prince of Egypt ,which was an animated flick by Dreamworks that has since been left in the early 2000s along with Kilmer’s career.