2018 will be a milestone year. It will mark the 10th anniversary of Iron Man, the movie that kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe. No one could have guessed how this would transform films with numerous big-screen smash hits that have thrilled both comic book fans and critics alike. Thanks to the movies, characters long ignored have become household names as have the actors that play them. It continues as Marvel also has numerous TV shows on ABC, Netflix and Hulu and they're working hard to bring more adventures with a variety of characters. The reason it works is the care taken with the scripts and especially with casting. Whether it’s a big name star or an unknown, everyone is considered for a Marvel role and so far, their instincts have been right. Thanks to the great casting departments, the MCU has been able to soar, whether it’s an Oscar winner (Cate Blanchett) or a sitcom star turned leading man (Chris Pratt).
But sometimes, that instinct fails. Sadly, for every great and successful casting decision made, Marvel drops the ball with another. They have been good at getting actors for roles that look like they’ve stepped right out of Jack Kirby’s drawing book and make fans happy. Other times, they flounder with a horrible choice that just baffles. On occasion, the actor might have seemed right for the role but it didn’t work while other times, it was a bad pick in the first place. Yes, Marvel’s successes are great but so are their misses and it's notable when the latter happens. Here are 8 times Marvel was dead on when casting a character and 8 that massively missed the mark, showing the risks of such casting down the road.
16 DEAD ON: Chadwick Boseman as the Black Panther
The very first black superhero to get their own movie in the MCU, the Panther has been a popular figure with Marvel for decades. T’Challa, king of the small African nation of Wakanda which, thanks to a priceless metal, is the richest, most advanced nation on Earth and protected by a population of warriors. That backstory had serious potential and so far, Marvel is paying off on it. Chadwick Boseman was an inspired choice for the role, crafting a pitch-perfect accent for the part and managing to make it work. Debuting in Civil War, he shows T’Challa driven by his father’s murder to seek revenge, setting much of the plot in motion. However, we see the wisdom of T’Challa knowing how empty this is in the end, leading him to just capture his father’s killer, not take his life. Now, Boseman steps up to the fore in the big screen solo movie which has fans excited to see this king/warrior/hero and make the role one of regal power. There are a lot of heroes in the MCU but Boseman ensures that the Panther is a true king.
15 HORRIBLE: Ben Kingsley as the Mandarin
It’s still one of the most debated plots of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. In the comics, the Mandarin is one of Iron Man’s oldest foes, a nobleman who uses ten alien rings of power to create a new Chinese empire. True, the character may have seemed too stereotypical but he is still a top enemy. So for Iron Man 3 to turn him into a Caucasian was bad enough, but having him played by Ben Kingsley was something else. Here, the Mandarin is more a cult leader and terrorist boss, not the world-conquering foe with powerful rings fan wanted and it came off a missed opportunity.
Of course, this was the prelude to the big twist: Kingsley is Tony Slattery, a boozing British actor being used by the real villain as a distraction. Fans were more outraged at this bait-and-switch and how it blew the potential in the role. Marvel even reacted with a short film where Slattery learns the real Mandarin isn’t pleased with his impression. It was a poor idea and as talented as Kingsley is, even he couldn’t pull this turn off.
14 DEAD ON: Krysten Ritter as Jessica Jones
Created in 2001, Jessica Jones wasn’t meant to be anything but a side player in the MCU. The idea was a woman orphaned in an accident that granted her limited superpowers. She tried her hand as the costumed hero Jewel but a run-in with the mind-controlling Purple Man broke her and turned her into a sardonic private eye. However, the character caught on and soon she was featured more regularly. It thus made sense to have her one of the “ground” characters in the Netflix shows and Krysten Ritter was a fantastic choice for the part. With her ultra-sardonic humor intact, Ritter attacked the role, perfectly capturing Jessica’s broken life, her harsh turns and how she just didn’t think she was worthy of redemption. See how her reaction to Killgrave’s return was her running off, but still coming back to deal with him once and for all. Ritter kept it up in The Defenders and the upcoming second season should allow her Jessica to shine brilliantly despite the darkness around her.
13 HORRIBLE: Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One
Tilda Swinton is a tremendously talented actress. She’s proven that slews of times in her Oscar-winning career from indies to Hollywood blockbusters. A chameleon in her roles, Swinton in a Marvel movie should have been a terrific addition to the Marvel movies. Unfortunately, the role didn’t suit her in the least. In the comics, the Ancient One is the seemingly immortal mystic who takes a broken, arrogant Stephen Strange under his wing and teaches him how to be a fantastic Sorcerer Supreme. The character has long been presented as an Asian man who looks the part with a wrinkled face and huge moustache. Casting an Anglo woman in the part was, needless to say, rather controversial. Swinton did her best with a bald head and was a good powerful force to highlight the film. But it just seems a truly bizarre piece of casting and too distracting in many ways so, despite her great talent, Swinton just wasn’t suited for this part.
12 DEAD ON: Tom Hiddleston as Loki
No one could have imagined how his casting would change so much. Ironically, Tom Hiddleston had tried out for Thor but the producers realized he was better suited to his conniving brother. The actor threw himself into the role, looking just like the comic book character while also getting his nature. Yes, Loki is a liar and a schemer, willing to throw a planet into ruins to rule. But Hiddleston showed how driven he was by how his father kept him in the dark on his true heritage, always in Thor’s shadow and just feeling unwanted. His handsome looks sure helped win fans but his cool manner and wicked humor sold the part. It was such a huge deal that he was not only the baddie of Avengers but returned in two sequels and will continue to play a big role. It takes a truly talented actor to make moviegoers root for the bad guy and Hiddleston pulled off that trick nicely.
11 HORRIBLE: Everyone in Inhumans
It’s downright hilarious to remember that in 2015, Marvel promised that Inhumans was going to be a blockbuster big-screen movie. They even had Agents of SHIELD set it up with the idea of people gaining super-powers. However, plans changed and eventually, it was turned into an ABC series. From the moment the first trailers hit, fans were worried but no one could have imagined this being an outright disaster on multiple levels. The writing, pacing, and plotting were all horrible and one felt downright sorry for the cast being saddled with this. Anson Mount’s Black Bolt was silent by need but came off just dull. Serinda Swan had to put up with bad CGI as Medusa and then have the hair cut off. Isabelle Cornish as Crystal was poor and the rest of the cast just flat out stunk. Only Iwan Rheon as Maximus seemed okay with an actually decent plot but was overwhelmed by the hordes of bad decisions that turned this into a huge flop that showed not every Marvel character deserves a showcase.
10 DEAD ON: Wesley Snipes as Blade
Way back in 1998, Marvel movies weren’t a thing at all. Even DC was hitting the slumps in terms of comic book entries. Then along came Blade to make it all cool again. The movie’s producers were smart to take a little-known character and build him up nicely in a great action showcase. The key was Wesley Snipes, still a major star at the time, who made the role his own. If anything, this movie Blade was far cooler than the comic book version with his terrific style, slicing and shooting up vamps by the score and showcasing a fantastic vibe. Witness the opening of the film where scores of vampires are terrified at the mere sight of him. Snipes made him impressive in combat but also slick with his aura and fighting his own half-vampire nature. The two sequels gave him even more time to flaunt his skills and this is probably Snipes’ best role. While his career and life since hit the skids, Snipes should be remembered for making this the first successful Marvel movie and bringing comic book flicks back from the dead.
9 HORRIBLE: Edward Norton as Bruce Banner
Edward Norton is a fantastic actor, truly intense and terrific with his roles. However, that intensity makes it harder for him to take on the part of Bruce Banner. The character is meant to be a tortured scientist, a brilliant man who has to constantly fight the literal monster within him. Norton just went into the role with too much energy and power, he even seemed to show Banner liking being able to turn into the Hulk which completely goes against the character. Of course, things weren’t helped by Norton’s monstrous ego causing a mess on the set of the film to the point that he was rewriting the script. When The Avengers came along, Norton would only agree to reprise the role if the Hulk was the central character. Marvel wisely dumped him for Mark Ruffalo, who’s far better suited to the somewhat nebbish Banner to make the contrast with the Hulk more gripping. The Hulk’s mantra is “don’t make him angry” but Norton took that to an extreme to mess the part up so badly.
8 DEAD ON: Tom Holland as Spider-Man
The third time was the charm. Nothing against Tobey Maguire or Andrew Garfield but Peter Parker just seems to work better as a younger figure. Casting Tom Holland in Civil War was a huge coup; from the second he hits the screen, he is Peter Parker. Witness his arrival in the big battle, flipping over in his costume and then how he approaches it all as the coolest thing imaginable. That led to Homecoming as Holland just got more into the role to a fantastic degree, bouncing with wonderful chemistry, firing off jokes like no tomorrow and capturing the angst of Peter putting up with being a high school nerd when he has this whole other life.
A great bit is him complaining about being treated as a kid only for Tony to point out that he still is one. Holland was just so much more lively, relatable and real than any actor to take on the role before him and from quipping while fighting baddies to the high stakes of high school, won fans over to make him probably the best on-screen Spidey ever.
7 HORRIBLE: Natalie Portman as Jane Foster
It’s hard to criticize an Oscar-winning talent who’s proven herself capable in several roles. However, oddly, when it comes to blockbusters, Natalie Portman seems to be out of her league. It’s well known how her turn as Padme in the Star Wars prequels was heavily criticized for a lack of good acting although many put the blame for that on the director. But her turn as Jane Foster in Thor also seems a bit off. Portman doesn’t seem to be showing the same passion for the role that she has in others as if she resented being cast as a love interest. Her turn as Jane just seems dull and uninspired and there was no feeling of chemistry between her and Thor.
If anything, Portman’s weakness is shown in how Kat Dennings, as assistant Marcie, was seen as ten times more vibrant, exciting and appealing to the point where many wished she’d been cast as Jane instead. The sequel gave Jane more time yet somehow less to do and it was no surprise that she was written out as she just didn’t soar in the part despite Portman’s talent.
6 DEAD ON: Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange
Stephen Strange was an incredibly arrogant man from our world. A surgeon who considered himself a minor god, he was living a high life and treated everyone around him like morons. So who better to play him then the man who’d come to fame as a modern Sherlock Holmes? From the moment Benedict Cumberbatch was announced in the part, fans went wild, the man totally perfect for the role. The first images confirmed it with his lush goatee and the costume looking like he’d stepped right off the comic book page. Cumberbatch backed it up with his astounding performance, showing Strange going from the heights of success to broken down low before learning magic to find a new way to be a champion. He still showed Strange arrogant and such but a bit tempered this time around. His brief appearance in Thor Ragnarok showed this more confident Strange who treats Asgardian gods as just minor annoyances to his daily routine. It just showcased Cumberbatch as a man magically perfect for the role.
5 HORRIBLE: Julian McMahon as Doctor Doom
Doctor Victor Von Doom is the greatest villain in the Marvel Universe. A supreme genius, his mind is topped only by his immeasurable ego and how he truly believes the world will be a better place when he’s the supreme leader of the planet. With his armored visage, regal majesty and wicked cunning, Doom should be cast by a natural on screen. Sadly, 2005’s Fantastic Four did him no favors. Instead of Lee & Kirby, the movie was based on the terrible “Ultimate” FF. Thus, we got Victor Van Damme, played by Julian McMahon, a TV actor with few big screen credits let along on this level.
While a good actor, McMahon was a terrible choice for Doom, none of his booming voice, ego or such. Worse was how he was saddled with metallic skin and in love with Sue Storm. A lot is wrong with this movie but managing to make Doctor Doom look like some minor threat is its worst sin and a key reason fans are hoping the MCU can give him his due one day.
4 DEAD ON: Chris Evans as Captain America
It’s funny how, when Chris Evans was cast as Steve Rogers, even long-time Captain America writers like Mark Waid said he was bad for the part. They just couldn’t accept the idea that the man best known for playing the Human Torch in the poor Fantastic Four movies could be believable as the leader of the Avengers, thinking him too young and quiet. Evans silenced all those critics fast. His turn was notable in how he insisted on playing the scrawny Steve first via some CGI so audiences could buy into his turning into the super-soldier. His All-American looks were perfect for the role and his good humor carried him as Steve learns to be a real soldier and soon battling across Europe.
It’s carried in the sequels, Steve totally certain he’s right and doing what it takes, imbuing the American spirit of can-do attitude. Civil War had him so certain about what was right, he was willing to fight friends and his own government. No one can deny in his casting now as Evans has made Cap the moral center of the MCU as intended.
3 HORRIBLE: Topher Grace as Venom
There was so much wrong about Spider-Man 3. There was the lackluster plot, the bloated events, the over-reliance on CGI and of course, the infamous “Emo Peter” dance scene. But Venom was a massive letdown. In the comics, he’s been one of Spidey’s most important enemies, a monstrous figure with the alien suit allowing him to change his form about while smashing Spider-Man about. But casting Topher Grace in the role was a huge mistake. Eddie Brock is supposed to be tough and imposing, his bodybuilder form is a direct contrast to Peter Parker’s shorter and lithe body. Instead, Grace and Tobey Maguire were about the same size, throwing it all off. Grace just played Brock as a whiny punk, not a decent guy pushed to darkness when he blows a big story and leads to his transformation. So many things were wrong about the film yet pushing Venom to such a low level was one of the worst and helping to kill this segment of the franchise.
2 DEAD ON: Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark
Almost a decade later, it’s hard to remember that before the first Iron Man film, Robert Downey Jr. was best known as a good actor sadly overcome by excessive drinking and partying. A tabloid favorite, Downey was trying to make a comeback but didn’t seem to be doing well until he was cast as the billionaire inventor turned armored avenger. As soon as the movie hit, fans were astounded as Downey appeared to have been born to play the part. Not only was he the spitting image of the character from the comics but he perfectly captured Stark’s arrogance, mood and overall loving being what he was.
That led to a hard fall but rising up, selling his joy creating the armor and showing off. His slow realization of being a hero was good but Downey also got Tony’s guilt over his past which pushed plots like Civil War. That was a fantastic showcase for Downey’s actual acting talent and how well he shines. He keeps hinting he’ll be done soon but it’s hard to imagine the MCU without the fantastic talent who started it all rolling.
1 HORRIBLE: Finn Jones as Iron Fist
It’s sad in a way. Iron Fist could have been something really great, a fantastic series about a young orphan trained and raised in a distant land, a fantastic fighter, and some epic fight scenes. Instead, it turned into a low-rent Arrow, the “rich man learning to fight” aspect was seen as too derivative and just did not click. What’s worse was the casting. The character of Danny Rand had to be serious, tough and skilled, some humor while still doing great in the end as a hero. But Finn Jones came off way too bland in the part, a total mess in so many ways. He seemed half-asleep through most of the series, almost no expression and his “steely gaze” was more like a lazy eye. The lackluster fight scenes didn’t help and most believe a different casting would have helped the show immensely. Jones showed the same weakness in The Defenders and it's a clear reason why this is the worst Marvel Netflix show; casting a lead who came off more frat boy than martial arts hero.