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.
30. Marv (Mickey Rourke) | Sin City (2005)
Sin City was a movie that couldn’t exist and Marv was a role no one could play. Robert Rodriguez put paid to that first notion (what HAPPENED to you, dude?) and Mickey Rourke brought the character to life so fully that it’s his face I think of when I think of Marv, not Frank Miller’s graphic portrait, despite that being my first introduction. Marv was always a great character – one that put the brute in brutal, but who was also a softy for those he cared about – and Rourke embodies him fully, from a (heavily made up) face that “looks like Baghdad” to the oddly gentle way he interacts with those who have treated him with kindness. It was this movie and character, not Randy in The Wrestler, that made me think maybe Mickey Rourke was making a comeback. It’s still my favorite of his roles.
29. Zod (Terrence Stamp) | Superman II (1980)
As the main villain in Superman II, Terrence Stamp’s portrayal of General Zod was not the over-the-top slug fest like we saw from Michael Shannon’s Zod in Man of Steel. Stamp was a much more subtle and in control Zod; eerily terrifying but not physically imposing. Unfortunately, when Stamp had to share screen time with Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor he was easily overshadowed. Easily one of the most quotable villains in film history. Like you’ve never yelled, “Kneel before Zod!” after beating one of your kids in Super Smash Brothers.
28. Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) | DC Extended Universe
What would the two Suicide Squad movies be without Harley Quinn? By taking a no-holds-barred approach to her portrayal of the psychotic villainess, Margot Robbie quite easily gave us the most memorable character from both of the DCEU films. Her Harley Quinn was a scene-stealer, so much so that the ensemble film Birds of Prey became Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn instead. Optimistic, fierce, and fun, some might consider Harley Quinn to be an anti-heroine, and maybe she is, but let’s not forget that her brain was broken by the Joker. Robbie is so good at making Harley sympathetic. She’s a broken, abused woman who simply wants love in her life, but as soon as she’s slighted, she’s reaching for a weapon… and you honestly find yourself cheering her on.
27. Spider-Man (Tom Holland) | Marvel Cinematic Universe
A common complaint I have heard multiple times regarding Tobey Maguire’s and Andrew Garfield’s time as the web-slinger is that they never nailed both sides of the character. It’s a complaint that’s been similarly levelled to any actor that has portrayed the dual role of Bruce Wayne and the Batman. Peter Parker and Spider-Man are also two sides of the same sticky coin, and it’s harder to pull off than you think. Fans mostly agree that Maguire did a better job playing Peter Parker than Spider-Man and Garfield was a better Spider-Man than Peter Parker. Most of it comes down to being able to make Spider-Man seem cool and composed while firing off some of his trademark quips and humor, and Peter Parker a basic nerd that can never seem to win in life.
Somehow, Tom Holland has managed to capture both sides of the character. His Peter Parker may be in impressive shape and look like Tom Holland, but he’s still a nobody. He’s a nerd who is really only able to be himself around those he is closest too. But as Spider-Man, he has no trouble cracking jokes at the ATM robbers or the Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Spider-Man: No Way Home really played with the distinction between the two identities. The villains may know Spider-Man, but it’s once you know it’s Peter Parker under the mask that changes everything. Lucky for us, Holland knows what he’s doing and I cannot wait to see his next film dabble more with this shared identity now that no one knows who Spider-Man is again.
26. Magneto (Ian McKellen) | X-Men Franchise
I’ll be honest, I really had no idea who Ian Mckellen was when he was cast as Magneto. But man, he was awesome. A menacing, evil counter to Stewart’s Xavier. McKellen was another perfect casting call for the X-Men films. Never showing a bit of sympathy for Homo Sapiens as he pushed his brotherhood of mutants forward. Calculating and cold as he uttered to a freshly mutated Senator Kelly, “You have nothing to fear from us…not anymore”.
25. Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) | Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man Trilogy
While the new Aunt May played by Marisa Tomei got an interesting twist on comic lore, Rosemary Harris just embodies the character in the original trilogy. While Uncle Ben sets Peter on his heroic course, Aunt May often keeps him on track. She is sweet and loving, but tough and unbending. Even at the clutches of Doc Ock she has the courage to do the right thing and whack Octavious in the head with her umbrella. She’s struggling to pay bills but she won’t beg for assistance. When Peter reveals his role in Uncle Ben’s death her reaction is perfectly human: she sits in shocked silence and leaves without a word. But the next time she sees him she instills such a warmth and forgiveness, continuing to guide Peter and show him so much love. Harris nailed the character as a loving, strong and wise mentor to play off an endlessly troubled Peter.
24. The Cast of The Addams Family (1991)
While the recent animated movies are technically the most faithful to Charles Addams’ original comic strips, the ’90s movie will forever be the definitive version of these characters because of its cast. Sonnenfeld must’ve been doing cartwheels behind the camera every time the Addams did literally anything. Each one perfectly inhabits their character. Pugsley is probably the weakest in terms of his characterization and performance and he’s still fantastic. He’s just not as perfect as the rest. That’s how strong everyone is. Angelica Houston and Christina Ricci are a gift from movie heaven and Christopher Lloyd as Uncle Fester is an inspired choice but my favorite will always be Raul Julia as Gomez. Every single line out of his mouth is just perfection. His devotion and obsession to his wife, is one of my favorite things in film, period. They give Nick and Nora a legit run for their money. They have always been my favorite on screen couple and I don’t see anyone changing that anytime soon. He’s so into his wife and she’s just as in love with him and he is with her. It’s the perfect dynamic. And that’s just their relationship. There’s also his penchant for fencing and dagger throwing and general acceptance of his family. The rest of the world is bizarre and weird to Gomez, which has always been the joke but seeing how loving they all are with each other, he might not be wrong.
23. Hit-Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) | Kick-Ass Duology
I was about to start this out by saying that I don’t really think I knew who the hell Chloë Grace Moretz was when Kick-Ass was first released. After going back through her filmography, that statement isn’t entirely untrue. I know I saw her in The Amityville Horror remake, but I don’t really remember that film too much so … yeah. Anyway Moretz’s performance as Hit-Girl is one of the all time best. She absolutely nails the role as the bad ass daughter / sidekick to Nicolas Cage’s Damon Macready / Big Daddy. Her final battle at the end of the first film is one of the most gratuitously violent sequences ever. And it’s brilliant.
22. Arthur Fleck / Joker (Joaquin Phoenix) | Joker (2019)
More so than most other super villains, Joker has entered that rarified space reserved for only the most famous of literary characters. Like Dracula, Sherlock Holmes and Alice from Wonderland, Joker will always be adapted. There will always be at least two generational defining versions of the character. Some prefer the Hamill one, while younger viewers gravitate towards the one in Gotham. As long as your name isn’t Jared Leto, if you’ve played the Joker, odds are, you have a dedicated fanbase that considers you the best. Since they’re all varied to an extent, it’s easy to latch onto one over the other but since the Joaquin Phoenix one is dangerously close to being a real person, his fanbase is probably the worst. Nowhere near as bad as the press wanted them to be (they really pushed for the potential theater shooter angle that never happened) but you can only see so many memes that are aimed at terrible people for terrible people to relate to and share before you want to close Facebook forever. But while they are among the worst fandoms, I get why someone would empathize and even relate to this version of the Joker.
Every other Joker, from the comedic to the gangster Juggalo, share one thing in common: they are a plague upon Gotham. Their mere existence makes the entire city rotten. Gotham has always been bad but it’ll never be good as long as he lives. This Joker is the first that’s a direct byproduct of the city’s rot. He was born in a corrupt, uncaring and broken cesspool of a city that pushes him till he snaps. He’s not to be looked upon as a great antihero and you’re certainly not waiting to see him go up against Batman in any sequel. You’re supposed to pity him. This isn’t the Clown Prince of Crime, this is a mentally disturbed victim of systematic injustice. In Joker, the titular character isn’t the villain, Gotham is. In terms of casting, Jack Nicholson definitely comes closer to nailing the version we all know and love and as perfect as he is, every other actor Burton considered would’ve been just as great. Brad Dourif, John Lithgow, Tim Curry and David Bowie all could’ve been excellent choices and the are a ton of other actors throughout the years that could have and did do amazing jobs but for this iteration of Joker, I can’t see many doing as good a job as Phoenix.
21. Captain America (Chris Evans) | Marvel Cinematic Universe
By the time Captain America: The First Avenger hit theaters, Iron Man, Hulk and Thor had already been cast and the seeds of an Avengers movie had already been planted. But the team needed something extra to bolster the team and create the dynamic necessary for a compelling movie. Captain America could have been a tough sell as he could come off as a one-note Boy Scout. Evans did imbue the character with an unshakeable moral compass, but, even in his first appearance, began showing a depth past the small, sickly kid from Brooklyn that wanted to serve his country. It is in Captain America: The Winter Soldier that Evans really gets to play this depth out though, as a man out of time and becoming distrustful of taking government orders. It’s complicated to remain a patriotic symbol while the U.S. Government is the villain of the film, but Evans makes Steve believable as someone’s who conviction to do what’s right is patriotic because it symbolizes what America can be versus what it is. This vein only continues throughout the rest of the main saga, and Evans sells the weariness of a soldier that’s always fighting for the right thing with nothing to go home to. From his first film to his last, he is never one that can back down to a bully, but he evolves and grows over time thanks to Evans’ nuanced performance.
What do you think are some of the best comic book castings of all time? Maybe some of them will show up on the list!