The current movie climate revolves around the superhero genre, with an average of 10 tent-pole films released a year between Marvel, DC and Fox. Though Fox owns the right to several Marvel properties (X-Men and Deadpool, notably), their films focus less on a shared universe than do the MCU and DCEU franchises.
Despite lackluster reviews, Warner Bros’ and DC’s Suicide Squad dominated the box-office with a $135 million opening weekend, breaking records for August. The film marked the third entry in the DC Cinematic Universe, joining the equally lambasted Man of Steel and Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. Meanwhile, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been going strong since 2008’s Iron Man. It’s had its own handful of flops – Thor: The Dark World and Iron Man 2 among them.
DC and Marvel are constantly at war, trying to win the box office and the praise of fans and critics alike. But before the idea of shared universes made its way to the minds of studio executives, the superhero genre was far more niche. There were no strict contracts like we see today, signing actors to upwards of 5 films with a studio, binding them to a specific latex-clad vigilante.
It may be hard to remember a summer without The Avengers or Batman, but some of our favorite heroes used to don the garbs of heroes across comics’ sacred line. Here are 18 Actors That Have Appeared In Both Marvel And DC Films.
18. Ryan Reynolds – Deadpool and Green Lantern
Perhaps the most iconic example of an actor appearing in Marvel and DC films is Ryan Reynolds. Reynolds first played Wade Wilson in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a movie mostly known for ruining the Merc with a Mouth by taking away his mouth.
Reynolds jumped ship and headed to DC, headlining their adaptation of the Green Lantern comics along with wife Blake Lively. His turn as Hal Jordan ended even worse than his first Deadpool appearance. Critics slammed Green Lantern, noting its overuse of CGI; even Reynolds’ suit was green screen.
Reynolds persisted, and thanks to leaked test footage featuring a much more comic-accurate Deadpool, Fox agreed to try their hand at the fourth-wall-breaking anti-hero again. From there, it’s history: Deadpool became one of the most successful R-rated movies ever, along with the most successful February release ever. Reynolds’ charm and pitch-perfect interpretation of the character helped to guarantee a sequel. It looks like Reynolds will be staying on the Marvel side for now.
17. Tim Robbins – Green Lantern and Howard the Duck
Crawling through a sewer into a torrential downpour would not be enough to redeem Tim Robbins in any comic fan’s eyes. The actor, most known for his performance as Andy Dufresne in Shawshank Redemption, holds the distinction of being an Oscar-winning actor to star in two of the biggest box-office bombs of all time.
Robbins played Senator Robert Hammond in DC’s first attempt in expanding their limited canon, when they only had Superman Returns and Nolan’s Batman trilogy to speak for. Needless to say, Green Lantern was a disaster, featuring enough CGI to practically be considered an animated film.
Robbins perhaps signed on to Green Lantern with the hopes of helping people forget his turn in the 1986 bomb, Howard the Duck. The George Lucas-produced Marvel picture is considered among the worst ever made. Robbins’ contribution to the unmitigated failure was his role as Phil Blumburtt, earning him a Razzie nomination. Robbins just does not have a great track record when it comes to comic book adaptations.
16. Natalie Portman – V for Vendetta and Thor
Oscar-winner Natalie Portman kicked off her post-Star Wars career with another fantasy film, this time from the mind of comic legend Alan Moore.
V for Vendetta was adapted by the Wachowski siblings from Moore’s most iconic graphic novel of the same name. Published by Vertigo comics, a subsidiary of DC, the novel follows an anarchist freedom fighter named V who fights against the fascist regime of an alternate-reality London. Portman played Evey, a woman who joins the battle alongside the Guy-Fawkes-mask-wearing anti-hero.
When she returned to the superhero genre six years later, Portman stayed away from the political. As Jane Foster, scientist and love-interest to a Norse “god”, her role in 2011’s Thor never quite had moments like Evey’s “God is in the rain.” Portman returned for the sequel, but may have had her fill of the superhero genre; she will not be seen in the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok.
15. Hugo Weaving – V for Vendetta and Captain America: The First Avenger
Weaving starred alongside Natalie Portman as the titular V in V for Vendetta. Delivering his performance from behind a plastic mask, Weaving proved his talent as an actor extends into the comic genre.
The New Zealand actor, most known for his role as Agent Smith in the Wachowski’s Matrix trilogy, has brought his menacing presence to numerous sci-fi and fantasy films, including The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, in which he played Elrond. Another one among them is as the evil Red Skull in the MCU’s Captain America: The First Avenger.
Weaving again covered his face, this time with gross red prosthetic as the Hydra leader and supervillain. Though each Captain America movie gets better and bigger than the last, The First Avenger is still a solid origin story movie, in part due to a great classic evil-guy performance from Weaving.
14. James Marsden – X-Men and Superman Returns
Marsden burst into the spotlight through the superhero genre, appearing in Bryan Singer’s X-Men as the superhero team leader, Cyclops. He continued to star in films like Enchanted and The Notebook, often playing the villain in romantic comedies.
Marsden followed his X-Men director to the DC Comics side for 2006’s Superman Returns. Singer kindly offered him a small role as Jack White, a co-worker of Clark Kent. Superman Returns was not quite the success Singer hoped, and so he later returned to the X-Men franchise with X-Men: Days of Future Past and this year’s X-Men: Apocalypse.
Marsden returned to X-Men a bit earlier, playing Cyclops in Brett Ratner’s X-Men: The Last Stand. Fox may have been miffed that Marsden left for DC; his character was killed off in the first act of the film.
Funnily enough, when Singer returned to the franchise, he brought Marsden’s Summers back for a brief cameo.
13. Tommy Lee Jones – Batman Forever and Captain America: The First Avenger
Tommy Lee Jones may be most known for his role in The Fugitive, but he continues to captivate audiences with his curmudgeonly attitude today. He joined the pantheon of A-list talent in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Captain America: The First Avenger as Colonel Chester Phillips. Phillips helps Cap lead the charge against Nazi and Hydra forces, and is a crucial part of Cap’s origin story. To be short, Jones delivers another great performance in the film.
While younger Batman fans associate Harvey Dent with Aaron Eckheart, those who saw Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever in theaters will remember Jones’ turn as the criminal Two-Face. The Dark Knight is a significantly better film, with captivating performances and strong villains, but Jones’ campy version of the character is still quite memorable – he’s certainly a lot more fun.
12. Chris Evans – The Losers and Captain America: The First Avenger (and Fantastic Four)
Though perhaps much of the criticism for the film came from the obvious parallels to The A-Team, the 2010 film The Losers pretty much lived up to its name. Based off of a Vertigo comic, the film followed a team of United States Special Forces operatives on a black ops mission gone wrong.
With an ensemble cast that included not only Chris Evans, but several other MCU actors as well, The Losers marked the end of the Vertigo comics film adaptations (for now). Right now Vertigo dominates the silver screen with Preacher, iZombie, and Lucifer.
Evans had a supporting role as Jensen in The Losers, but of course you know him as Steve Rogers himself in Captain America: The First Avenger and every subsequent Cap film. He also played Johnny Storm in Fantastic Four and Evil Ex #2 in Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, so it’s suffice to say he is a big comic fan.
11. Zoe Saldana – The Losers and Guardians of the Galaxy
Saldana starred alongside Evans in The Losers, but it was her role in a film just one year prior that grabbed audience’s attention. As Neytiri in James Cameron’s Avatar, Saldana donned a motion control suit and blew us away, helping to make the sci-fi epic the highest grossing movie ever (until The Force Awakens).
Saldana went from playing an alien with blue skin to one with green skin in Guardians of the Galaxy. Her Gamora wasn’t the scene stealer that Rocket Raccoon, Drax, or Groot was, but she was a valuable member of the team nonetheless. Given the goofiness of the rest of the team, having her there as a straight man came in handy. Among her better action scenes was the climactic showdown with Nebula. Hopefully Guardians Vol. 2 or Avatar 2, 3, or 4 will give her the awesome action scene she deserves.
10. Idris Elba – The Losers and Thor
Rounding out the MCU actors to appear in Vertigo’s The Losers, is Idris Elba. The British actor and Mumford and Sons fan has had an illustrious career so far starting in TV with Luther, The Office, and The Wire.
The Losers aside, Elba’s transition to the big screen has been a huge success. Just this year he appeared in The Jungle Book, Finding Dory, Zootopia, and Star Trek: Beyond. That is a good year. Next year may be even better, with Elba starring as The Gunslinger in The Dark Tower.
Elba has appeared in two separate Marvel franchises, as Moreau in the instantly forgettable Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, and as the guard of the Rainbow Bridge, Heimdall in the Thor franchise. We’ve only seen a little bit of him in action so far, so hopefully he gets to fight a bit more in Thor: Ragnarok.
9. Tao Okamoto – The Wolverine and Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice
Japanese model-turned-actress Tao Okamoto got her start in the latest solo film about the man who is the best at what he does, The Wolverine. Playing Mariko, the love interest to Hugh Jackman’s crazed mutant, Okamoto clearly made a name for herself in Hollywood.
She was quickly cast as recurring roles in both The Man in the High Castle and Hannibal, showing her range as an actress. Clearly a fan of the genre, Okamoto returned to superhero films in this year’s Batman V Superman, playing Mercy Graves.
Graves was unfortunately a very small part for Okamoto, offering only a few lines with boss Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) before her pre-Act 2 departure. Maybe she would have better luck in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
8. Ned Beatty – Superman (’78) and Captain America (’90)
He was often considered one of the busiest actors in Hollywood, so it comes as no surprise that Ned Beatty appeared in two superhero films long before 10 were being made a year. Beatty starred as the side-kick Otis to Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor in the 1978 Superman. Director Richard Donner made great use of the Deliverance actor’s comedic chops, with plenty of slapstick humor and jokes. The Christopher Reeve Superman is still one of the strongest versions of the Man of Steel in cinema.
12 years later, Beatty tried his hand at another superhero film, this time on the Marvel comics side of things. The 1990 Captain America was not as well-received as his previous effort, with visuals that make it look like it was made several decades prior. It was still great seeing Beatty on screen, but as of late it is his voice-work where he really shines, with roles in Toy Story 3 and Rango.
7. Djimon Hounsou – Constantine and Guardians of the Galaxy
Hounsou may not be a household name, but his list of credits speaks for itself. From Gladiator to Wayward Pines, the African actor has balanced his filmography between action-epics and Oscar-winners with great ease.
His first turn in a superhero movie came when he starred alongside Keanu Reeves in Constantine. The 2005 adaptation of DC Comics’ Hellblazer opened to mixed reviews, but Hounsou shined as club owner Midnite.
More recently, Hounsou was featured as the ever-persistent Korath in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. The needle-dropping sci-fi film was not only more family-friendly faire than Constantine, but also a box-office success.
6. Michael Fassbender – X-Men: First Class and Jonah Hex
Irish-born actor Michael Fassbender was first “discovered” by American audiences with his brief role in Inglorious Basterds. We have Tarantino to thank for awards winners like Steve Jobs, Shame, and 12 Years a Slave.
But Fassbender might be most known for his performance as Magneto in the recent X-Men trilogy. Beginning with 2011’s First Class, Fassbender has done a spectacular job at bringing humanity to the complicated metal-manipulating mutant. Following Ian McKellan as Magneto was a tall order, but Fassbender proved himself an acting equal with a memorable performance.
However, he would probably prefer if you forget his role in the 2010 DC film Jonah Hex. Yes, just a year prior, Fassbender played another villain: Burke, a knife-loving, tattoo-covered henchman. Lucky for him, most people did forget: Jonah Hex was a huge bomb but Fassbender’s career is only just beginning to explode.
5. Josh Brolin – Guardians Of The Galaxy (and beyond) and Jonah Hex
Alongside Fassbender, Josh Brolin starred as the title character in Jonah Hex, a Civil War science-fiction western. The movie follows a disfigured bounty hunter with a penchant for vengeance. He’s out to kill the people that burnt him and murdered his family, but in the meantime, hunting down criminals will have to do.
The tongue-and-cheek tone fell flat for most critics and audiences, and the movie wasn’t salvaged by Megan Fox’s performance or the cowboy action scenes.
Despite not knowing it was him (behind the CG), Brolin returned to superhero movies in the 2012 The Avengers. Brolin played the puppet master and primary antagonist of the entire Marvel Universe, Thanos. Though his role is only made of cameos so far, there is no doubt that when he does finally star, it will be better than Jonah Hex.
4. Laurence Fishburne – Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer and Man of Steel
When he wasn’t learning about bending spoons as Morpheus in The Matrix, Laurence Fishburne starred in plays on Broadway and appeared in movies like Mystic River and Mission Impossible III. The veteran actor got his big break in Apocalypse Now, and more recently turned in an excellent performance as Jack Crawford on Hannibal.
Fishburne is one of many great actors to join the DCEU as a cast member in both Man of Steel and Batman V Superman. But his role of Perry White is actually not his first journey into the superhero genre.
Though he didn’t appear on screen, Fishburne provided the voice for the cosmic surfboarder in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. The Fox Marvel movie was far from a showcase of Fishburne’s talent, and like its predecessor received mixed reviews.
3. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje – Suicide Squad and Thor: The Dark World
Akinnuoye-Agbaje has appeared in two big budget superhero films, though you wouldn’t recognize him from either: the make-up he wears covers most of his performance.
Prior to his MCU and DCU appearances, Akinnuoye-Agbaje was a supporting actor on the hit TV series LOST. His character Mr. Eko, was a fan favorite in the 2nd and 3rd seasons. He also starred in the show Oz and appeared briefly in Game of Thrones.
If you go to theaters this weekend you will “see” Akinnyoye-Agbaje in Suicide Squad, as Batman villain and squad member Killer Croc. It’s a small role, and this fact is made even more disappointing by the fact that his role in Thor: The Dark World was equally bit. He played Kurse, the henchman of Malekith, a dark elf.
2. Ben Affleck – Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice and Daredevil
This actor turned director is all too familiar with the superhero spotlight. Affleck starred as Matt Murdock in the adaption of the hero of Hell’s Kitchen, Daredevil. The 2003 Marvel superhero flick did well at the box office despite mixed to negative reviews, warranting a spin-off, Elektra. Affleck was far from the worst aspect of the film; it was Colin Farrell as Bullseye and some shoddy direction that received most of the flack.
Affleck is quoted as saying one of his main reasons for agreeing to play the Dark Knight in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice was to seek the forgiveness of fans for messing up one of their favorite heroes. Believing the film would be a success, Affleck praised director Zack Snyder and his cast mates for their dedication.
Upon release to fans and critics, Affleck was singing a different tune, and it wasn’t “Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na, Batman!” Though his performance was praised, the movie itself received almost unanimously bad reviews.
His brief appearance in Suicide Squad was not enough to see if his turn as the Caped Crusader will continue to distance itself from his turn as Murdock, but here’s hoping his Untitled Batman Movie highlights his directorial prowess and acting chops.
1. J.K. Simmons – Spider-Man and Justice League
J.K. Simmons wasn’t really a household name until he won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role in Whiplash. His abusive and manipulative Fletcher would fit in perfectly with the villains of superhero films.
Years before his award sweep, Simmons delighted comic fans with his portrayal of J. Jonah Jameson in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy. He is one of the highlights of those movies, capturing the character so beautifully that he would go on to reprise the role in several animated television shows.
Simmons’ signature voice has also been featured on Gravity Falls, The Legend of Korra, and as the yellow M&M in the M&M commercials among many others.
Simmons has been working out hard for his next role, playing Commissioner Gordon in the upcoming Justice League movie. Though he is following the transformative Gary Oldman, we are positive that Simmons will also turn in a spectacular performance.