Since comic book movies are all Hollywood seems to make nowadays, there seems to be genuine effort on the part of the studios to try and find the perfect person to embody whatever superhero they’re adapting this week. They either shoot for accuracy and go after an actor born for the role or decide to roll the dice on an out of the box casting that surprises everyone. Both require a degree of luck. Finding the exact right actor oftentimes requires an unknown like Reeve or Holland and that’s not always easy to find and going with the unconventional choice could result in gold like Ledger or a turkey like Eisenberg. What’s even rarer is finding an actor who’s actually better than the character they’re portraying, accurate or not. Hugh Jackman is a good two feet taller than Wolverine but he perfectly captures his inner turmoil and rage. Iron Man was more of a humorless dick before Downey Jr. turned him into, well, Downey Jr. There’s many different ways an actor can nail a character and this list celebrates all of them. The accurate, the unorthodox, and the perfect.
These are the 50 Greatest Comic Book Castings of All Time.
20. Loki (Tom Hiddleston) | Marvel Cinematic Universe
Admittedly, I was not the biggest fan of Loki when he arrived in the MCU. I found him to be whiny and petulant and I didn’t understand the hardcore love for him in the fandom. However, I can admit that it was the brilliance of Tom Hiddleston’s performance that gave me such conflicting feelings about the character. Yes, he’s whiny and petulant, but then you start to understand why. Hiddleston could have easily turned a character like Loki into a caricature. Something silly and eventually obnoxious. But he’s given Loki depth, the kind of layers you only see being pulled back with each appearance in the MCU. By the time his own Disney+ series came around, I was a big fan of the character and Hiddleston’s portrayal and by the time I finished the series, I couldn’t wait to see what was going to come next.
19. Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) | Black Panther (2018)
The true thematic core of Black Panther lies within Killmonger’s character. In order for the entire movie to work, Michael B. Jordan needed to deliver a dynamic performance. As expected, he delivers. And knocks it out of the park. Killmonger’s misguided motivation, inner torment, and blind determination are all channeled superbly by Michael B. Jordan. His character’s death is one of the more unfortunate ones in the MCU, because it would be great to see him pop up in future movies.
18. Batman (Michael Keaton) | Tim Burton’s Batman Duology
In the late ’80s Michael Keaton BECAME Batman after uttering the words “I’m Batman”. For two movies he perfectly separated the intense, brooding Batman from the charmingly awkward Bruce Wayne. Before his casting, Keaton was known for his stand-up and comedic films; this made his performance that much more amazing. If we could only see him play Batman.. one more time.
17. Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe) | Spider-Man Franchise
No one in the history of comic book movie performances has ever been more committed to the role than Willem Dafoe. His performance is too cartoonish to be truly menacing; too emotionally nuanced to be fully campy. What he’s able to communicate with just his eyes and mouth while wearing the Goblin mask will amaze me until the end of days. And don’t even get me started on that laugh.
16. Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) | DC Extended Universe
It seemed to take a really long time to get a live-action Wonder Woman on the big screen and I feel like casting Diana Prince was its biggest hurdle. Gal Gadot wasn’t exactly a “no name” actress, but beyond the Fast & Furious movies, I didn’t know much about her. I think that was really beneficial to the movie. Audiences were able to lose themselves in the story, to see Gadot as Wonder Woman, instead of just a recognizable A-List actress dressing up to play pretend as a superhero for a couple of hours. She was excellent as Diana. Naive, optimistic, but also strong and capable when it came down to it. When I think of Wonder Woman, I think of Gadot’s wonderful performance, especially during the No Man’s Land sequence.
15. Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine) | The Dark Knight Trilogy
“Maybe it’s time we all stopped trying to outsmart the truth, and let it have its day.”
God, how much do I love Michael Caine as Alfred? He’s the heart to the Nolan Batman films, the emotional counterweight to all the violence, madness and suffering. He also gets all the greatest lines, including “some men just want to watch the world burn.” There have been plenty of Alfreds on big and small screens, but Michael Caine gave the character a heart of gold, a spine of steel and the wit of, well, Michael Caine.
14. The Cast of Popeye (1980)
Altman’s original idea was to cast Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin as Popeye and Olive Oyl and while I can definitely see them working in an Altman version of Popeye, the casting of Williams and Duvall essentially killed whatever version he had in his head at the start. Once he realized he had actual living breathing cartoon characters, the rest of the film is a reaction to that. He wanted the residents of Sweet Haven to all be unique and memorable, so he cast actual mimes like Bill Irwin; actors with distinct faces and voices like Linda Hunt, Paul Dooley and Donald Moffat; and for Paul L. Smith, he just reached into the comic and pulled out Bluto. Don’t be fooled by his stage name — Paul L. Smith is actually Bluto. Each of them are perfectly cast and serve as the film’s soul, but as good as they are and as important as they are to the film’s overall aesthetic, Williams and Duvall are the film. They are the beating heart at its center and if you don’t buy them or their romance, it doesn’t work. Altman does not get enough credit for not only bringing those characters, that could only exist within the panels of a comic, to live action but actually making you invested in their romance. The fact that this film exists at all is kinda crazy but the fact it’s as good as it is, is a minor miracle. And it’s all due to Altman picking the right person for every single role.
13. Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) | Marvel Cinematic Universe
Tragically taken from us at a truly exciting point in his career, Boseman’s screen legacy was cemented with Black Panther. From his first scene-stealing appearance in Captain America: Civil War to the starring role in 2018’s Ryan Coogler-helmed Black Panther and final (live-action) appearance as the character in Avengers: Endgame, he went from strength to strength, bringing a regality that the role required and a soulfulness that it benefitted from.
Boseman was instrumental in making sure that the T’Challa that made it to the screen had an African accent — it might be unimaginable now, but it was a possibility that the king of Wakanda would have a British or American accent, presumably so as not to alienate American or international audiences, with the in-universe excuse being that he was educated overseas. Boseman rightly felt this was inconsistent with the Afrocentric ethos that the character had on the page and that he wanted to bring to the films. It’s this kind of decision that has a ripple effect across the portrayal.
–D. N. Williams
12. Blade (Wesley Snipes) | Blade Trilogy
It’s hard to imagine anyone else but Wesley Snipes playing Blade. He was one of the most marketable stars in the industry at the time and on paper, he seemed to fit the role perfectly. In practice, he was even better. From the ass kicking martial arts action (being a 5th degree black belt in Shotokan Karate doesn’t hurt) to the witty, sarcastic dialogue, he pulled it off effortlessly. Sure, Blade: Trinity was a bit of a disaster but the first two films still hold up today. Snipes is so synonymous with the character, if you think of Blade, you instantly think of Wesley Snipes.
11. Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer) | Batman Returns (1992)
There have been a lot of actresses who have played an iteration of Catwoman. Eartha Kitt, Halle Berry, Anne Hathaway, and most recently, Zoe Kravitz, just to name a few. But I know for me when I hear the name Catwoman, I think of Michelle Pfeiffer. Admittedly she was my real introduction to the character but I think I can say, with some confidence, that she still holds the crown for the most iconic portrayal of Batman’s… enemy? Frenemy? Love interest? I don’t even know. It doesn’t really matter, does it? From her costume (the stitching is a brilliant metaphor for a woman coming apart at the seams) to her over-the-top performance, complete with a live bird in her mouth, Pfeiffer is arguably the best part of Batman Returns and the most memorable Selina Kyle.
What have been your thoughts on the list so far? Who do you think will show up in the Top 10?