From The Page To The Screen
The greatest time to be a fan of comics and film is right now. There is a plethora of excellent comic stories to flesh out on the big screen, but it has only been within the last fifteen or so years that special effects companies have figured out how to imitate the brilliant (and expensive to duplicate) powers of heroes and villains. CGI has helped greatly, but practical effects are still a very much needed tool in the process of creating believable heroes and their abilities.
Another key element to creating a believable hero or villain is the actor behind the mask or under the cape. There have been plenty of actors that have tried their hand at being superheroes, and while many of them are excellent (Robert Downey, Jr., Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, and Michael Keaton), many more have been weighed down by bad writing, directing, or acting skills in general (Ryan Reynolds, George Clooney, Halle Berry, Henry Cavill).
This list will rank my personal top ten favorite actors and the heroes that they portray. Some of the criteria for this list includes:
- Actors who can work out of their comfort zone.
- Physically look like the character they are portraying.
- If they can make a film better than it really is (or at least tolerable).
- Pull off excellent performances in roles that they were supposedly miscast for.
- I’m only using films from my lifetime (1970s to present).
This criteria means that Robert Downey, Jr. (despite being enormously popular as Iron Man) is out of the running due to the fact that playing an alcohol-swilling playboy isn’t that much of a stretch for him. Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan are also off the list because those guys have a solid track record of delivering brilliant performances again and again. We EXPECTED them to do great as Professor X and Magneto, and they did just that.
Now, before all of you Deadpool fans go into cardiac arrest, Ryan Reynolds isn’t on this list because, and let’s be honest here, Ryan Reynolds plays Ryan Reynolds in every movie that Ryan Reynolds is in. He didn’t have to try very hard to portray Deadpool, so it was never really much of a challenge for him. Plus, he royally sucked as Hannibal King and couldn’t act his way out of Green Lantern (although I actually sort of liked that film).
Also, I’m sure that I missed a few of your favorites on this list and I know that I’ll probably tick off a few people for some of the folks listed here, but this is strictly my opinion. If you haven a different opinion, feel free to let me know in the comments. Oh, and none of the actors from the X-men films made the list, so you can go ahead and get angry about the lack of Hugh Jackman.
Let’s get started.
Number Ten: Ray Stevenson as The Punisher
Okay, right off the bat you’re going to say that playing Frank Castle isn’t that big of a stretch for Ray Stevenson. He’s the silent, angry type and that’s pretty much Stevenson’s MO in every film. However, you’d be wrong. Remember Volstagg in the Thor films? That was the same guy. He was hilarious. He was also in Rome and King Arthur and many more films. Yes, he almost always plays the muscle, but he also has a heart. In Rome, his portrayal of Titus Pullo showed us that he could switch from violent warrior to father figure in an instant. Stevenson has a very strong fatherly quality that played out well in Punisher: War Zone as well, especially whenever dealing with the daughter of the agent he mistakenly kills at the beginning of the film.
Also, War Zone wasn’t the greatest Punisher flick around (the Tom Jane film was superior in my opinion), but Stevenson kept things interesting throughout and was believable as Castle. While Tom Jane did a brilliant job (I highly recommend the indie Punisher short Laundry Day on YouTube), Ray Stevenson LOOKED like Frank Castle more than Jane or Dolph Lundgren.
Number Nine: Michael Chiklis as Thing
Although I found the Tim Story-directed Fantastic Four films to be very good (but in no way great), the popular consensus is that both films were severely lacking. I thought that all of the cast did a great job except for Jessica Alba, who was lacking as Sue Storm. Michael Chiklis had the wonderful duty of portraying Thing. He was under a ton of prosthetics and had to convince the world that he was a rock man. Chiklis did a great job. He provided humor, action, and emotion as Ben Grimm. Up until this film came out, he was best known as the pudgy commissioner on The Commish. Fantastic Four allowed him to flesh out his dramatic and comedic acting chops.
As Grimm came to terms with the fact that he would probably never be normal again, Chiklis had to show range emotionally with nothing but his eyes, voice, and, to a lesser degree, body language to deliver his performance. He did a great job, and kept the story interesting as well.
Most recently Chiklis played the commissioner on another show that’s (sort of) about Batman, Gotham. His turn on that show was very dramatic, and he played a tough-nosed boss perfectly.
Number Eight: Paul Rudd as Ant-Man
Much like another actor on this list, when it was announced that Paul Rudd would be portraying a Marvel hero, specifically a Marvel hero named Ant-Man, the general public was hesitant. How was an actor known for his comedic work going to pull off Hank Pym? Well, he didn’t have to pull off Hank Pym because he portrayed the second Ant-Man, Scott Lang. This made fans of the hero a bit more relaxed (and Michael Douglas killed it as Hank), and Rudd put on a performance that made me put Ant-Man in my Top Five favorite Marvel films (that list is on the way, BTW).
While Rudd did rely heavily on his comedic chops, he did a brilliant job as a man that was desperate to win back at least a little bit of respect from his ex-wife and her soon-to-be new husband, and to make his daughter proud of him. Top that off with an excellent script, solid directing, and a great supporting cast, and Paul Rudd easily slips onto this list.
Number Seven: Chris Hemsworth as Thor
Marvel Studios took a big risk with their first cinematic production, Iron Man, especially considering the fact that Iron Man was at best a second tier character in the Marvel Universe. Sure, he has had multiple solo story lines and has been a part of many great teams, but prior to this film’s release, few people outside of comic book circles would mention Tony Stark as one of the favorite characters. Many years later, Iron Man has been plastered all over the place and has been used to carry other heroes as well.
Thor was in a similar boat whenever that film was released. While the character had a following in the comic book world, not many people claimed him to be a favorite. Also, despite the fact that two massively successful Iron Man films and a well-received Incredible Hulk movie had been released and plans were laid out to the public about the expansion of the MCU, Thor could have been the film to make or break Marvel’s success.
Enter Chris Hemsworth who, basically, was another risk for Marvel Studios. While Robert Downey, Jr. was on the rebound as an actor in Iron Man, he had an established fanbase (albeit not in the comic book world) and was known for delivering some great performances.
Hemsworth wasn’t very well known outside of his home in Australia. Despite this, he successfully brought the crucial swagger that makes Thor the god that he is and his comedic range as well. Top that off with his performance in the lackluster second Thor film and both Avengers films, and we saw how well Hemsworth could develop Thor with each release.
One could argue that Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is what made the Thor films and the first Avengers film great and I definitely agree, but Hemsworth’s brash and cocky Thor was an excellent foil to his wicked “adopted” brother.
Also, Hemsworth bulked up big time for the role. He LOOKED like Thor, and he has kept that physique across all of the films.
Number Six: Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man
Much like Chris Hemsworth, Andrew Garfield wasn’t much of a household name. Sure, he had a bit part in Doctor Who and was part of the sci-fi drama Never Let Me Go, and he also had a major role in The Social Network, but nobody batted an eye whenever you mentioned his name.
When he took on the role of Peter Parker, many had their doubts (including yours truly). However, Garfield did a brilliant job as everybody’s favorite wallcrawler. He personified the nerdy/socially-awkward-but-still-a-bit-cocky attitude of Peter Parker. The first film was very good in my opinion, but the second film was bad. Despite this, Garfield managed to rise above the weak story of the second film and delivered a powerful performance in the death sequence of a particular character (I know it has been a while, but I’m not going to spoil the death).
He looked like Peter and delivered one of my favorite superhero performances. I was honestly perturbed whenever it was announced that he would not be reprising the role in Captain America: Civil War. While Tom Holland definitely owned his brief screen time as Spidey, he still has a long way to go before he bumps Garfield off of the top of my Spider-Man list.
Number Five: Michael Keaton as Batman
The top five of my list starts off with the actor least likely to be believable as a superhero, Michael Keaton. Prior to 1989’s Batman, Keaton was mainly known for his comedic roles in films like Mr. Mom, Night Shift, and the wonderful Beetlejuice. Whenever director Tim Burton announced that the cape and cowl would be donned by Beetlejuice, crowds recoiled in horror. How could you cast an actor known for his laugh-inducing work to portray the Dark Knight Detective?????
Jack Nicholson was cast as the Joker, and Warner Bros. wisely used his star power to promote the film. Once it was released, however, just as many people were talking about Keaton’s powerful performance as they were about Nicholson’s portrayal of the clown prince of crime.
Keaton proved everybody wrong with his portrayal of BOTH Bruce Wayne and Batman. He was believable as the billionaire playboy and as a fear-inducing vigilante out to stop Gotham’s worst criminals. While the story did play a little bit to Tim Burton’s quirky stylings, Keaton managed to keep the serious tone of Batman alive.
The second film, Batman Returns, was, at least in my opinion, a much weaker film that the first one, but Keaton still delivered a great performance. I’m glad that both he and Burton walked away after the second film, because we all know how much of a train wreck the franchise became once Joel Schumacher took over.
Number Four: Ben Affleck as Batman
Okay, I might be cheating a bit by having two people on this list that portray the same character, but Ben Affleck’s Batman is completely different from Michael Keaton’s. Affleck was written off as a bad choice to play Batman before he could even find the keys to the Batmobile based primarily on his work as Daredevil. I enjoyed that film, but recognize that it was lacking overall. However, I was very interested to see how Affleck’s turn as the caped crusader would be in comparison to other men that have played the character.
What audiences got in Bruce Wayne was a smooth playboy who was older, wiser, and angrier. Batman was violent, vengeful, and bloodthirsty. If you haven’t seen Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice yet, I highly recommend that you see it as soon as possible. Whenever we are first introduced to Batman in the film, it’s one of the most brilliantly frightening moments in all of comic film history. The people he saves ARE SCARED OF HIM! They call him a demon! Affleck gives us a SCARY Batman, which is something we haven’t ever truly seen on the big screen.
Also, Ben Affleck packed on muscle for the role and cast a massive shadow over Henry Cavill’s Superman both figuratively and literally. Affleck was massive, and I’m glad that he played my favorite superhero.
Number Three: Wesley Snipes as Blade
When it comes to the “hero landing,” nobody does it better than Wesley Snipes. I’ll be honest and say that prior to the first Blade film’s release, I didn’t know much about the character outside of a few action figures and the rare cartoon appearance. When I saw Snipes on the screen, though, he won me over to the Daywalker.
Every single move that Snipes made in the first two Blade films was deliberate and screamed “hero” every time. He demanded your attention whenever he entered the scene.
Also, considering the fact that Blade was basically a third tier Marvel character and not even as popular as Iron Man, the success of the first two films and the making of a third (albeit mediocre) film, proved that a great actor can draw crowds no matter what the subject might be.
Yes, the third film, Blade: Trinity, was terrible, but Snipes made it ten times better than it was despite the nonstop motormouth of Ryan Reynolds.
Oh, and Blade was rated R before being rated R was cool.
Number Two: Chris Evans as Captain America
I’m not going to lie. I honestly did not believe that Chris Evans (of Not Another Teen Movie fame) could pull off the true blue, God bless America, eagle-winged Captain America. But, surprise, surprise, the guy knocked his performance out of the park. He IS Captain America. I can’t see anybody else as the the Star-Spangled Man With A Plan.
Evans plays the role to perfection. I cheered on Cap in his first film even though I felt that it was more of a “Hey, let’s hurry up and get to the Avengers film” film. There was something extremely patriotic about the whole movie as it played out in front of me.
I can pinpoint the moment in the film that completely sold me on Evans. It was the moment when Cap and the Howling Commandos stormed a Hydra facility. The doors blew open and as the smoke cleared, the first thing your eyes hit is that shield, that red, white, and blue wonderful shield. Cap walks in from behind it and takes charge of the situation.
Then Evans gave one of the best performances in the highly anticipated The Avengers. I never doubted his leadership abilities for a second, and even though the film had a few rocky moments, Cap kept everything under control.
Then came my favorite Marvel film of all time, Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It was an espionage game supreme, and relied on fewer special effects than every other Marvel flick up to that moment. The story drove the film. It is still the most intelligent Marvel film I’ve seen so far.
Finally, Evans managed to do a great job in the lackluster Avengers: Age of Ultron and the very good, but not great Captain America: Civil War.
Evans is it, and I can’t stop bragging about him, but he isn’t number one on my list. Whoever that is must be something very special…….
The Number One Actor To Best Portray A Superhero is…….
Superman isn’t even my favorite superhero, but Christopher Reeve definitely put Supes higher on my list with his performance as the Big Blue Boy Scout. Reeve bungled around like an idiot while portraying Clark Kent. He personified the “Aw, shucks” attitude of middle America. He wreaked of wholesomeness and purity, something that almost all of today’s heroes (including Superman) lack.
While under the red cape, Reeve made a larger than life character come to life. He joked with Lois Lane, showed a great range of emotions, didn’t swear, and did his best to make sure that no one got hurt except for the baddies (and even then he had a heart).
Each one of Reeve’s performances was excellent (even in the terrible third and fourth films), and I have to give a nod to Bryan Singer and Brandon Routh for doing a bang up job in attempting to capture some of Reeve’s magic with Superman Returns. Singer and Routh knew that they couldn’t top the original, but they did an excellent homage to Reeve with their film.
Christopher Reeve is going to remain at the top of this list indefinitely. Those below him will most likely change as more time passes, but I seriously doubt that anybody will portray a character as perfectly as Reeve portrayed Superman.
So, there you have it. My Top Ten list of actors who best portrayed superheroes on the big screen. I plan on doing a Top Ten for comic book films in the very near future. I might break it down into two posts.
I know that pretty much everybody will disagree with on this list, so be sure to drop a comment of your own Top Ten below.
As always, thanks for reading. Be sure to share this post if you’d like.