A superhero film, possibly more than any other cinematic genre, hinges on the actors and actresses cast in its lead roles. Many a fanboy clamor to see a comic book character come to life, while critics want to witness a bold and unique vision in it’s portrayal. Casual fans just want to see a character “not suck.” I can get behind all 3 of these reasons.
After returning from the theatre in which I saw Spider-Man: Homecoming, I began to think about what it was that caused me to enjoy that film so much. More than any other reason, my reaction to the film was based on Tom Holland’s portrayal of the web-slinger and Michael Keaton’s version of Adrian Toomes, aka the Vulture. Which lead me to wonder about 2 things: 1. Why would the AMC change its cheese that comes with the pretzel bites?? It was perfect!, and 2. Who are the best cast superhero roles OF ALL TIME!…………. or like, the last 50 years or so? To the Ranked!-mobile!
(Side Note: Just because this is a list of 10, does not mean I don’t think there have been other amazing casting choices in superhero films. I could’ve made a Top 20 for sure, maybe Top 30, but A. I’ll be lucky if you read all of this anyways, and B. I’m tired, guys! Please, just know, I did think very long and hard about this…at least 35 minutes.)
Fine! You convinced me (and by “you,” I mean Pete Herr. Thanks a lot, buddy.) I’ll do a 30-11 breakdown as well, proving that I did labor over my choices, and that I care more about your opinions than I let on…
30. Chiwetel Ojiofor, Baron Mordo (preemptive placement…you just wait)
29. Sebastian Stan, Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier
28. Michael Fassbender, Magneto
27. Danny Devito, Oswald Cobblepot/The Penguin
26. Jack Nicholson, Jack Napier/The Joker
25. Michael Keaton, Bruce Wayne/Batman
24. Michael Keaton, Adrian Toomes/Vulture
23. Emma Stone, Gwen Stacy
22. Ian McKellen, Magneto
21. Benedict Cumberbatch, Dr. Strange
20. Zoe Saldana, Gamora
19. Daphne Keen, X-23
18. Henry Cavill, Superman
17. Tom Holland, Peter Parker/Spider-Man
16. Chadwick Boseman, T’Challa/Black Panther
15. Chris Hemsworth, Thor
14. Chris Pratt, Star-Lord Peter Quill
13. Christopher Reeve, Superman
12. Alan Cumming, Nightcrawler
11. Samuel L. Jackson, Nick Fury
Top Superhero Casting Choices
10. Mark Strong, Sinestro / Chris Evans, Steve Rogers*Captain America
I realize I basically just cheated the rules and made this “Top 10” a list of 11 by using the #10 spot to put in 2 of my favorite portrayals, but I’m the one writing this at 11 at night, bingeing on a dinner of Pepsi and Doritos while I listen to my son snore through his baby monitor, so I’m going to do whatever I want, aight?
As I will mention again further down this list, 2011’s Green Lantern had some, shall we say, issues (see: too much time spent on Earth, not enough time spent with crazy ass aliens reinforcing the importance of the Green Lantern Corps. Also, their costumes **monkey covering eyes emoji**). One of those issues was most definitely NOT Mark Strong’s interpretation of the Corps leader/traitor Sinestro. True to the character, and captivating whenever on screen, the biggest disappointment to the box office bomb that was Green Lantern was not seeing Sinestro as a Yellow Lantern in the sequel. Mark Strong was made to play that character.
And speaking of playing comic book character, well, Chris Evans knows a thing or 2 about that. Because of this irrefutable fact, but mostly due to his turn as Johnny Storm in the Fantastic Four movies (see: best part of either film), I was hesitant at the casting of Evans for a character near and dear to my heart, Captain Steve Rogers. 2 Avengers films, 2 Captain America films, and 1 hilarious post credit scene later, and I’m very happy to report that my hesitance was completely unfounded. Chris Evans has made the role of Captain America his, and has made it very difficult to picture anyone else wielding the red and white shield……..
…………other than, ya know, the Winter Soldier or Falcon, because, like, comic book storylines…..
……..but shut up, you know what I mean!
9. Patrick Stewart, Charles Xavier
“Comic book come to life,” is all you can really say when it comes to Sir Patrick Stewart and his iconic run as the leader of the X-Men. Unbeknownst to me, while reading X-Men comics as a kid and young adult, I read the dialogue of Professor X in P. Stew’s voice. This wasn’t on purpose, and dawned on me upon my first viewing of Bryan Singer’s X-Men. Did I know something that somebody else didn’t? No, because I guarantee you read it in that voice, too! That’s how perfect he is in that role, capping it off with a character defining performance in this year’s Logan.
8. Jackie Earle Haley, Rorschach
Former child actor turned terrifying vigilante of the night, Earle Haley embodied the role of Rorschach and made him the breakout performance of Zack Snyder’s often criticized, yet groundbreaking, graphic novel come to life, Watchmen. Earle Haley plays Rorschach as a complete and unapologetic dick for the entire movie, focusing on the pain and pure obsession that drives the character throughout. Rorschach isn’t a sympathetic character by any means, and whether you loved him or hated him, he was the one you were talking about once the movie ended (as well as where the hell that giant alien squid was!)
7. Tom Hiddleston, Loki
You know you’ve locked on to something special when your audience sort of roots for the villain. In 2012’s game-changer Avengers, Loki betrays his brother (again), leads an army of aliens to invade Earth, tries to kill said brother (again), “kills” a fan-favorite MCU character in Phil Coulson, and is all around basically just an a–hole from start to finish. Yet after seeing Avengers, how many of you were like, “Yo, Loki is awesome!” Yeah! A lot of you! That’s how you know an actor has made that role theirs. Hell, reshoots were done on Thor: The Dark World to add more Loki into the mix. A movie in which arguably its best scenes INCLUDED Loki! I, for one, can not wait for Thor: Ragnarok to get some more of Tom Hiddleston’s breakout role…and Jeff Goldblum. Who doesn’t love Jeff Goldblum?
6. Gal Gadot, Diana Prince/Wonder Woman
Several things blew me away while watching Patty Jenkins Wonder Woman film. The story was fantastic. The characters utilized perfectly throughout the movie, cast incredibly well on top of it. The visuals were stunning. Yet above them all, I left completely mesmerized by Gal Gadot’s Diana of Themyscira. She was able to make me believe that she was setting foot in a brand new world, with innocence and naivete in her eyes, yet also make me believe she was an unstoppable bad ass of a warrior, able to defeat anyone and anything that stood in her way. This is not an easy mix to portray, yet Gadot crushed it. Before the former Israeli armed forces member was cast in the role, I believed that Wonder Woman’s success, more than any other character in the DCEU, hinged on getting the casting right. Needless to say, DC and the powers that be at Warner Bros. decided on the pitch perfect Amazonian Warrior Princess. Now give me that sequel set in the 80’s, with at least 1 Hall & Oates song in it!
5. Hugh Jackman, Logan/Wolverine
Now, in my first draft of this list (hey, I can do a lot in 35 minutes), Jackman’s Rabid Wolverine didn’t even crack my Top 10. And I had my reasons for it, namely the fact that he wasn’t the Wolverine from the comics that I grew up loving. Then I had a conversation with my friend Pete, who questioned why he wasn’t higher. He didn’t push me on it, but he got me thinking. I hate the “oh, but it’s not comic book accurate!” guy, and I WAS that guy! Ugh, the shame! I began thinking about Jackman’s career as Logan, and though every X-movie or film based around his character wasn’t Oscar caliber, his performance always was. Jackman was often the best part of any X-Men movie (that he was in), and his version of the “immortal” mutant has become the stuff of legends. The more I thought about it, the more I was mad at myself for not including him, as I’ve always enjoyed his portrayal, and am going to miss it more than I originally realized. Logan was the perfect swan song for the character, and a brilliant actor putting his stamp on his character.
4. Robert Downey Jr., Tony Stark/Iron Man
How do I put this…
Robert Downey Jr. IS Tony Stark. He probably drinks less, but yeah. They’re the same person.
Robert Downey Jr. = Tony Stark. Tony Stark = Robert Downey Jr.
3. JK Simmons, J. Jonah Jameson
I’ve used the phrase, “Comic book come to life” already in this article, possibly twice, but I’m currently only 26% awake, so I’m not entirely sure. The thing is, the incomparable JK Simmons’ depiction of Spider-Man’s actual greatest villain, J. Jonah Jameson, is the stuff of legends. Let me be clear, I think Spider-Man 2 is a classic, and thoroughly enjoyed Spider-Man, but there are many things I haaattte…… strongly dislike about those films, yet I never watch any of the JJJ scenes with anything but dumbfounded awe at how perfect he is in the role. Also, watch his Oscar winning role in Whiplash and be scared to ever play percussion. JK is a national treasure.
2. Ryan Reynolds, Wade Wilson/Deadpool
Green Lantern, Ryan Reynolds first foray into the world of Superheroes (sort of…are we still pretending Wolverine: Origins didn’t happen?) had its problems (see: cramming 4 1/2 weeks worth of ideas into 2 hours), but the casting of Ryan Reynolds wasn’t one of them. In a kinder, gentler world, I’d be doing this list and including his version of Hal Jordan…but alas, our world is a giant crapball full of crap, and instead I’m talking about the role he was ACTUALLY meant to play, the Merc with a Mouth. I’m not entirely sure what to write here. You’ve seen Deadpool, right? You know what the difference is between Wade Wilson and Ryan Reynolds? One wears a lot more red and shoots many more guns, and the other is exponentially more handsome. That’s it.
1. Heath Ledger, The Joker
It’s a hard thing creating an iconic turn as an iconic character. It’s an even harder thing to create an iconic turn as an iconic character AFTER someone else has given an iconic iteration of that same character. This is the challenge Heath Ledger was up against, taking on the role of Batman’s greatest villain nearly 20 years after Jack Nicholson put his spin on the “Clown Prince of Crime.” Instead of copying Nicholson’s mannerisms and charisma in the part, Ledger transformed it, making the Joker less about jokes and gags and more about truly just wanting to watch the world burn. His performance in The Dark Knight as an anarchist putting Batman, and the city of Gotham, through hell is not only one of the greatest superhero performance we’ve ever seen, but one of the greatest cinematic performances, period. And here, people across the internet freaked out when Ledger was cast, proving you can’t judge a book by its cover, or whatever the proper saying for this situation would be. So please, everyone stay calm when Justin Bieber is cast as Jason Todd in the DCEU.
Welp, there you go! The definitive Superhero Casting List with absolutely no oversights whatsoever….. until someone calls me out on someone I missed. Sigh… I give it about 22 minutes?
Who did I miss? What would your top 10 rankings look like? Please comment and discuss below!
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