Some debates, like Pepsi or Coke, boxers or briefs and apples or oranges, are destined to go on forever. A similar statement could be made about the question of which is better, Marvel or DC Comics.
While this conversation is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, in regards to the movie portion of these two comic giants, Marvel has been able to gain a clear advantage. Through the success of the Avengers and other franchises, Marvel has been able to create a movie empire that DC can only dream of matching (though time will tell whether the Justice League film series will reach a similar level of success).
But nobody is perfect, and as such, I developed this list to count down 8 amazing casting choices by Marvel, and 7 that in some cases were bad enough to ruin the films. With the Marvel cinematic universe beginning to center more and more around the various Avengers, they will be featured prominently on this list. However, I have also sought to include some obscure Marvel characters who don’t gain a lot of attention. Additionally, I have featured both lesser known stars and Hollywood heavyweights, as well as famous portrayals of both heroes and villains.
With such a broad range of entries, I feel that this list is truly representative of both the good and bad of Marvel movie portrayals. All character traits and movie storylines are from the first-hand knowledge of the author. Specific facts and dates related to the films or their comic book adaptions are taken from IMDB or the Marvel Characters webpage.
15. Best: Paul Rudd – Ant-Man
It has now become commonplace in Hollywood for well-known stars to live out their childhood fantasies by playing various superheroes. While some of these have been trainwrecks (Halle Berry as Catwoman), others have been very successful; including the casting of resident funny guy Paul Rudd to play Ant-Man in the 2015 film. A career criminal, the sarcastic Scott Lang is recruited to fight crime and (possibly) save the world. Along the way, he will have to overcome not only regular and superpowered enemies but also his own insecurities. Rudd plays the Lang character perfectly, with his snarky comments and overall appearance completely fitting in with what the producers designed for their Ant-Man character. For that reason, he starts the good part of our list here at #15.
14. Worst: Andrew Garfield – Spider-Man
I debated whether to include any of the trilogy of actors cast to be Spider-Man on this list. Eventually, I decided to include the second installment, Andrew Garfield, on the negative portion of this article. While I found Garfield’s performance to be proficient (but by no means mesmerizing) and actually preferred him to the aging Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man, I chose to include him negatively on this list due to the fact that he was essentially replaced as Spidey by Tom Holland. While the Toby Maguire Spider-Man movies were allowed to run their course ending with the franchise’s third film, Garfield’s Spider-Man franchise was canceled mid-storyline in order to make way for Holland’s appearance in Captain America Civil War. It would have been a simple matter to simply put Garfield’s Peter Parker into this spot, but instead, producers pulled the trigger on lingering doubts about Garfield, and re-cast Spider-Man to begin a new franchise.
13. Best: Chris Hemsworth – Thor
I first watched Cabin in the Woods (which Hemsworth actually starred in before being cast as Thor) after I had seen Hemsworth as Thor. After doing this, it is obvious that he was much more suited for his superhero role. The guy simply looks too much like a titanic hero of yore to play anything but. Gigantic in size, and equipped with a noticeable accent, Hemsworth is perfect for the bigger than life role of Thor. Throw in the exceptional chemistry he shares with his on-screen nemesis Tom Hiddleston (discussed a little later), and it’s easy to see how Hemsworth’s Thor managed to exceed all expectations placed on him. For these reasons, we decided to put Hemsworth as Thor on the good part of our list, here at #13.
12. Worst: Samuel L. Jackson – Nick Fury
I don’t want to follow the lead of some of my colleagues and make this entry all about the horrors of casting African-American actors to portray white comic book characters. I’m actually perfectly okay with substituting in an African-American actor for the purpose of diversity, as I don’t feel that the skin color of the actor changes how I feel about the character. Despite this, I didn’t like the casting of Samuel L Jackson as Nick Fury. The Director of Shield (a government agency tasked with handling all issues related to superpowered peoples), Fury has made guest appearances in nearly every major comic book and has intermittently had his own series. As such, the character has developed a very interesting and layered backstory. As such, the problem with casting Jackson in this role is that in every film he features in, he merely plays himself. That is, rather than adhering to the personality of the character he’s portraying, he merely does whatever he himself would do if placed in the character’s scenario. In regards to his role as Nick Fury, this is irksome enough to land Samuel L Jackson on the bad portion of our list at #12.
11. Best: Tom Hiddleston – Loki
I think the easiest way to tell when a portrayal of a villain is great is when the villain in the story becomes as popular as the hero. Such has occurred with Tom Hiddleston’s portrayal of Loki in the Thor and Avenger films. His popularity has allowed him to straddle that line between hero and villain, making for a very entertaining and compelling character. With him again set to be featured prominently in the third installment of the Thor franchise, hopefully he is able to up his already prestigious status as one of Marvel’s greatest film villains. Hiddleston’s portrayal of Loki is one of the main reasons for the success of these two films and nets a spot for him here at #11.
10. Worst: Michael Fassbender – Magneto
Michael Fassbender is quickly becoming one of the hottest commodities in Hollywood, which is understandable, as he is an incredibly talented actor. With that being said, I found his portrayal of Magneto in the X-Men prequels to be very disappointing. Admittedly, I think a large part of this was simply how amazing Ian Mckellen as the first incarnation of the mutant villain. Fassbender simply wasn’t able to portray the angst and hatred that McKellen was in showing a Holocaust survivor who had lost his whole family to a maniacal dictator. As such, Michael Fassbender’s portrayal of Magneto ranks here as one of the worst Marvel casting choices so far.
9. Best: Robert Downey Jr. – Iron Man
For those of you who have read my other superhero articles know that I try to award those films and actors who adhere to the characteristics of their respective character as defined in the comic book universe. The incomparable Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal of Tony Stark (AKA Iron Man), however, is the exception to this rule. The Tony Stark character played by Downey Jr. is nothing like the comic book Tony Stark, but that doesn’t mean that Downey Jr’s portrayal isn’t still highly entertaining. Though his portrayal is not as philosophical (or frankly as whiny) as the comic book character, I think this actually makes for a more entertaining and appealing protagonist. With the constant wisecracks and emotional depth of the film character, I actually find myself cheering for Iron Man much more than I ever did for the billionaire in the comic book.
8. Worst: Topher Grace – Venom
Though many of you may not remember Topher Grace’s performance as Venom in the finale of the original Spider-Man trilogy, you likely recognize him as the main protagonist from That 70’s Show. In the Spider-Man comics, Brock (Venom) is the more athletic and popular anti-thesis to Peter Parker (Spider-Man). Anyone who has seen That 70’s Show can tell you that Topher Grace isn’t the most jocklike actor that they’ve ever seen, I mean heck, the show even makes fun of that on numerous occasions!
If anything, Topher Grace is much more Peter Parker than he is Eddie Brock, which is definitely not what they were going for. It is clear he deserves to be on the wrong side of our list at #8. Somewhere in Wisconsin Red Forman is shaking his head in disgust. Dumbass.
7. Best: Chadwick Boseman – Black Panther
So admittedly this one is based on a small sample size. Chadwick Boseman has so far only played the Black Panther in the star-packed Captain America: Civil War film, but I really like what he has done with the character so far. Despite being on the wrong side of things for most of the movie (cough, cough, Tony Stark), Boseman carries himself with so much dignity throughout that you can’t help rooting for him. It was very easy to side with the noble Boseman at the death of his fictional father, regardless of the fact that his anger was slightly misplaced. Luckily the Black Panther is able to redeem himself by the end of the film, thus setting up his stand alone film set to debut in 2018.
6. Worst: Mickey Rourke – Ivan Vanko
As discussed in the Ant-Man entry, the infusion of well-known actors doesn’t always lead to success in superhero films. Such was the case with the primary villain in the second Iron Man film. Following the monumental success of the franchise’s first film, producers sought to use their upgraded budget to hire iconic actor Mickey Rourke as the main antagonist. The issue with this simply being that Rourke’s performance simply wasn’t very good. A lesser known villain in the comic books, Ivan Vanko usually comes with much more viciousness than Rourke showed in his performance. Without this added character trait, the Vanko character comes off as bland, thus making for an easily forgettable performance. For this reason, Rourke’s performance makes the bad part of our list, here at #6.
5. Best: Ryan Reynolds – Deadpool
When it was announced that Ryan Reynolds was going to play Hal Jordan in the Green Lantern film, a lot of fans, myself included, were very excited. Reynolds seemed like the perfect fit to play the wisecracking ring-bearing hero. Despite this, many of us were disappointed by the character and the overall awfulness of the film. However, this was all rectified in 2016 when it was announced Deadpool would get his own film with Reynolds in the lead. With much better writing than the Green Lantern film received, the Deadpool film was everything that ardent fans of the comic could have hoped. Reynolds cracked jokes, kicked ass, did both at the same time, it was great. Therefore he makes our list here at #5.
4. Worst: Eric Bana – The Hulk
I don’t think any hero in the recent string of superhero movies has had a harder time finding an actor to define the character than has the Incredible Hulk. A long time stalwart of Marvel Comics, since 2003 Hulk has been portrayed by three different actors in four separate films. The first of these attempts was Hulk in 2003 starring Eric Bana. It was hard to pinpoint exactly what part of Bana’s portrayal made this so bad, but I think that was exactly the problem. Bana’s performance was simply so bland that he added nothing to a movie that sorely needed his star power. As such he has the distinct dishonor of making the bad part of our list here at #4.
3. Best: Chris Evans – Captain America
If you need an example of the diversity of superhero films, look no further than Chris Evans. When cast in the 2005 Fantastic Four film, Evans just never quite fit into the Johnny Storm role. Of course, the exact opposite could be said of his role as the ever heroic Steve Rogers (AKA Captain America). It is apparent watching the two films that Evans was simply more comfortable as the more hearty and wholesome Rogers than he was as the hotshot Storm. This has led to not only the success of several films but also superhero moments and cameos that we will never forget. We should all thank our lucky stars that Evans was given another chance at superhero magic, and makes our list here at #3.
2. Worst: Nicolas Cage – Ghostrider
Sadly the 2007 Ghost Rider film was the first attempt by Marvel Filmmakers to go outside their usual net of popular superheroes (the X-men and Spider-Man series being the most popular). I say sadly because the Ghost Rider movie wasn’t very good. As such, aside from an even worse sequel, the onscreen representation of the Ghost Rider was canned until his recent reincarnation as Robbie Reyes in the Marvel’s Agents of Shield TV show.
In trying to pinpoint what was wrong with Cage‘s portrayal, I think it ultimately comes down to the fact that the Ghost Rider character is so highly reliant on his own inherent coolness. While Cage is an immensely entertaining and talented actor, I wouldn’t say that he’s someone who fans view as especially cool. By effectively killing one of Marvel’s most cherished characters, Cage’s performance as Ghost Rider earns the notorious position as the worst Marvel movie portrayal.
1. Best: Hugh Jackman – Wolverine
When I write these articles I have to contain my overwhelming fandom for the Hugh Jackman Wolverine character. Jackman was cast as the “tough as nails” anti-hero of the X-men in 2000 at the forefront of the superhero movie craze. Since then, Jackman has starred or appeared in no less than 8 movies and is unquestioningly the favorite character of the franchise. It is plausible to think that if Jackman wasn’t so perfect for his role that the X-men films wouldn’t have been such a success. With their status as the frontrunners of the Marvel movie craze, the success of all later films owe their success largely to the X-men franchise, and thereby Jackman himself. I’d say that’s worthy of the #1 spot on our list.