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.
40. Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina) | Spider-Man Franchise
Molina plays Doc Ock in Spider-Man 2 to tragic perfection. The character arc is so gripping and its mostly due to Molina’s spectacular performance. He hits all of the tonal notes asked of him – vulnerable, threatening, slick, humorous, terrifying – all without missing a beat. Not many people are capable of having on screen chemistry with puppet robotic arms, but Molina is somehow able to make it work. One of the great comic book movie villains we’ve been blessed with.
39. The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) | Watchmen (2009)
Say what you like about Zack Snyder’s adaptation of Watchmen (and I have) there are at least two performances that stand out as magic in the film. Jackie Earl Haley as Rorschach and Jeffrey Dean Morgan as The Comedian. He wasn’t an automatic slam dunk casting for me – I thought “wasn’t he Denny on Grey’s Anatomy?” – but damn if he didn’t embrace the complicated character and bring him to life perfectly. One of the triumvirate of nihilists in Watchmen, The Comedian is the ultimate anti-hero. He’s charismatic and violent and conflicted and brutal. He’s Batman AND the Joker in one. You want to hate him – and given he’s a rapist and murderer, you kinda should – but Jeffrey Dean Morgan somehow makes him watchable, instead of just someone to despise. And when he finally breaks down we know it must be something truly awful if it can make The Comedian cry.
38. Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) | X2: X-Men United (2003)
The success of the first X-Men movie meant the stakes for a sequel were super (sorry) high. Luckily it delivered, giving us more of everything that worked in the first film (Wolverine, Magneto, angst) and adding one of the best mutant characters from the comics – Nightcrawler. Alan Cummings brought Kurt Wagner to the big screen in a way that satisfied comic book fans and movie fans as well. Despite the (awesome) opening sequence – when Nighcrawler uses his teleporting ability to attack the President in the Oval Office – he’s really a peaceful man, a devout Catholic and a gentle soul. You love him, because despite his demonic appearance he exemplifies the best in us, and that’s the essence of the character. You can’t judge a book by it’s cover, or a person by their appearance. It’s too bad the extensive makeup (and script re-writes) meant we didn’t get another chance to see the Cumming’s version become the heart and soul of the X-Men, as he always should be.
37. Harvey Pekar (Paul Giamatti) | American Splendor (2003)
Within the first ten minutes or so of American Splendor, Harvey Pekar refuses to dress up for Halloween at the age of eleven because he thinks superheroes are dumb, has a bout of hypochondria at a doctor’s office, is unable to convince his wife to stay after she convinced herself that their “plebeian” lifestyle was too much to handle, and meets the famed underground comic book creator Robert Crumb. Directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini couldn’t have cherry picked four better events throughout his life to immediately convey to the audience what kind of person Pekar is. You know he thinks guys who fight crime while dressed in spandex is dumb, that he’s timid and borderline useless when it comes to standing up for himself, that he’s obsessed with medical issues that aren’t real and that he wants to write comics but he doesn’t know how to draw. It’s insanely effective character building because not only do I want to know more about this odd character, I desperately need to know what kind of comics he would make. Turns out, he’d make comics about himself. Not just himself but about his friends and co-workers, wife and whatever else popped in his head.
Harvey Pekar is a man of many thoughts and opinions, and has one helluva unique viewpoint on life. He sees the world a little bit differently than the rest of us. He had a gift for turning the mundane fascinating and was not afraid of being the topic of ridicule, like when he would use the Letterman show to pick fights and air grievances, much to the chagrin of Letterman and must people watching. He was a true original that wrote stories unlike anyone else. That’s probably why the directors had a fictionalized version of him (played brilliantly by Paul Giamatti) and the real life version of him in the movie. Just as a reminder of how real he really was.
36. Batman (Christian Bale) | The Dark Knight Trilogy
Time to talk about the man at the front of the wave of British talent playing iconic American superheroes.
A star-making role for Bale, his Batman is noteworthy for a number of things, including a physical transformation that has become one of his signatures as a performer, but let’s address the elephant in the room — a lot of people make fun of Christian Bale’s Batman voice. Look, I get it. It’s over the top. You know what else it is? Fun. The Dark Knight Trilogy does such a good job of taking its subject seriously, and in turn getting the audience invested in the “seriousness” of it all, that the conversation around these movies can often lose sight of the fact that they are really fun. Yes, that’s my defence of Bale’s Batman voice. Is it ludicrous? Sure. Is it more ludicrous than the costume he’s wearing? Absolutely not. I honestly think it’s a good acting choice, especially when you think about the central theme of fear that Batman Begins explores. A working title of the film was Intimidation Game, and Bale ratcheted up the intimidation aspect of the character more than any Batman actor before him with that distinct, bestial, body-trembling growl. There’s no way a human being would talk like that under any other circumstances, especially not Bruce Wayne.
Bale is equally suited to portraying Bruce Wayne’s playboy façade, and sincere moments with the people he loves, as he is to dropping criminals off rooftops as the Dark Knight himself. He brought a sense of humour to the role that never undercut the tone, from his delivery of “does it come in black?” to the look on his face when he’s told he “can’t lift a bloody log”. A great Batman.
–D. N. Williams
35. Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) | Superman Franchise
The late ’70s saw Margot Kidder take the role of Lois Lane and modernize the character. Lois Lane was no longer the damsel in distress waiting to be saved by Superman. Kidder turned her into strong, assertive women who often needed Superman’s help due to her fearless behavior. However, Kidder was also able to show a more vulnerable side of Lois with regards to her relationship with Superman.
34. Professor X (James McAvoy) | X-Men Franchise
Look, when you follow Patrick freakin’ Stewart into an iconic role you’re going to get comparisons. You can’t help it. Luckily James McAvoy didn’t give a shit. He knew they were essentially different characters – the younger version of Xavier doesn’t have the wisdom, experience or, to be frank, the WOUNDS that the older man has. None of our younger selves do. So the choices he makes, the actions he takes, are those of a man who THINKS he knows what is right and makes those decisions from a core of certainty that the older Xavier can’t. In some ways McAvoy’s version is more complicated and interesting – but that’s because he’s raw ore that we get to see forged in the fire. I’ll always prefer Patrick Stewart because he’s the most like the Professor X I grew up with, but I’ve enjoyed McAvoy’s version even if I didn’t always enjoy the films he found himself in.
33. Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield) | Spider-Man Franchise
In addition to all that delicious nostalgia and wacky multiverse shenanigans, No Way Home is amazing simply for the fact it afforded Garfield a shot at redemption. That movie was his shot to rewrite the story that was written after his failed run at the character. He was gifted the opportunity to prove that he was not the worst version of the character. A gift Garfield used like a basketball to dunk on every single person that ever talked shit about his casting. In every single scene of that movie, Garfield is like some sort of hitman/thief combo in that he’s completely stealing the film away from every other actor, while also silencing his critics forever. A hitman that uses a basketball apparently, since I’ve completely mixed up my metaphors but a mixed up metaphor might be the only way to describe what Garfield was able to achieve here. He pulled off what Cavill and Brosnan wished for and what Affleck sort of got when he was cast as Batman — a second shot at perfecting a character and goddamn did he do it. There are internet rumblings that Sony is going to put him in Morbius and if that’s the case, it’s the best idea they’ve had in a very long time.
32. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) | Marvel Cinematic Universe
Thank you to Taika Waititi for unlocking Chris Hemsworth’s comedic genius in Thor: Ragnarok. Once it was realized that Thor’s role in the MCU should be “badass goofball” as opposed to “stoic hero”, the full extent of Chris Hemsworth’s charisma was allowed to shine. Now that we’ve cracked the secret code, I can’t wait to see what we get from him in Thor: Love and Thunder and beyond.
31. Joker (Jack Nicholson) | Batman (1989)
There are a few actors that seem to destined to play a role, and Jack Nicholson was born to play the Joker. As the Joker, he was maniacal and unhinged. As Jack Napier, he was cool and calculating. His crazed performance perfectly matched Michael Keaton’s Batman. Easily one of the top villain performances in a comic book film.
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!