The more fans a story has when it’s on its way to becoming a film, the more passion we see regarding its casting choices. Whether we’re talking about a new Star Wars movie or the sequel to a book about 50 Shades of abusive relationships, fans tend to have strong feelings on who should (or should NOT) play their favorite characters. Once whitewashing and age-skewering come into play, the fan reaction can get downright nasty. Under the Dome fans, for example, didn’t love the book’s snoopy reporter being aged down by at least 25 years. When Hermione Granger was cast as a person-of-color on stage, a particularly vocal segment of fans lost their collective minds.
Sometimes though, producers and directors know what they’re doing when they make what seems like a disastrous casting choice. There have been plenty of instances that, despite fans raging to the contrary, surprising casting choices have given us beautiful films. This isn’t always the case, of course, as readers and movie fans still debate whether Tom Cruise was great or horrible as Lestat the vampire. And just to get this out of the way—we’re not covering The Doctor in this list. A study of debate surrounding Doctor Who casting would fill several volumes.
Here are 15 panned casting choices that turned out awesome.
15. Wonder Woman: Gal Gadot
It’s true that we haven’t seen a tremendous amount of Miss Gadot as warrior royal Diana Prince. We’ve seen her briefly in Batman v Superman, and heard many critics say that she was the best thing in the movie. That may be true, but one could also argue that that’s a pretty low bar. Between what we’ve already seen onscreen and the trailers for her solo movie and her next team-up adventure, we’re confident that Gal Gadot is a fine choice to play Wonder Woman.
Why did it take so long to arrive here? For the longest time, Wonder Woman casting was an issue, since people wanted more of a “Wonder Girl,” by which we mean someone visibly under age 30. Other fans made it clear that no one was good enough to wear her bracelets. There were even critics who wrote that Gal Gadot was “too skinny” or “not buff enough” (among other dishearteningly sexist physical criticisms). Who ever would have thought being too skinny would be a drawback for an actress? We’re confident that the haters can relax, and that Wonder Woman and Justice League will both be fantastic.
14. Ford Prefect: Mos Def
When it was announced that Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was finally being made into a film, literary nerds lost their collective minds. They’d been waiting for 25 years for a film version of this modern classic book series (originally based on a radio drama). Every casting decision, from live actors to the unseen voice actors, was dissected by nerdlingers with towels in the trunk of their cars.
Most upsetting for some was the casting of Mos Def (AKA Dante Smith, AKA Yasiin Bey) as the visiting alien Ford Prefect. Ford Prefect spent many years on Earth doing research while passing himself off as a native of a town called Guildford, near Surrey in England. Yes, that’s also where Harry Potter lived with the muggles. Apparently, some folks didn’t think a black actor could blend in around Surrey. Others thought “a rapper” had no business in a nerdy comedy. We now know that Mos Def can do pretty much anything he wants, and do it well.
13. Eva Peron: Madonna
Speaking of musicians nobody wanted to take seriously, Madonna has said that she “always wanted to play Eva Peron in Evita.” Argentine-first-lady roles don’t come around very often, so it’s easy to see why Ms. Ciccone would want it. Already a beloved Rice/Webber musical, Eva “Evita” Peron was also a larger-than-life figure even decades after her death.
But…Madonna? At the time, her movie career included the forgettable Who’s That Girl, along with passable performances in A League of Their Own and Dick Tracy. A leading role, though, seemed a bit outside her wheelhouse. Her fans will tell you that she filled the role with aplomb, and the movie did well at the box office. Despite critique from those who called Evita a “glorified music video,” Madonna won a Golden Globe for best actress (musical or comedy), which doesn’t usually happen to people who are terrible. Playing Eva Peron is a mere blip on the radar when you take a look at Madonna’s entire on-screen career, but it still worked out far better than detractors predicted at the time.
12. Carrietta White: Spacek, Moretz
Stephen King’s debut novel about a telekinetic outcast has been made into so many different productions, you’d swear it was called Spider-Man. There was the theatrical film, a little-known sequel, a theatrical remake, a TV remake, a viral marketing campaign, a stage musical—are we leaving anything out? The problem is that even going back to the original DePalma film, the actresses cast to play the hapless Carrie were far too pretty. Yes, even Sissy Spacek. Carrie, as described, is a chunky, zit-faced frump. In that sense, the Carrie movies are about as accurate as putting a model in glasses and a bad hairstyle for an “ugly duckling” episode of Saved by the Bell.
In the end, though, there really isn’t a bad movie adaptation of Carrie. Spacek’s was a classic. Angela Bettis, while the weakest version in some opinions, took some good risks and was enjoyable as well. Chloe Moretz, who is probably the furthest thing from a chunky, zit-faced frump, did a wonderful job convincing viewers that she was miserable, painfully lonely, and a violent explosion waiting to happen. The actresses may not quite have looked the part, but the adaptations certainly didn’t suffer for it.
11. Captain America: Chris Evans
Remember back to the days when once you played a superhero, you were known as that superhero forever? Sure, people like Adam West, Lynda Carter, or Christopher Reeve did other acting roles. But they’ll always be remembered for the one in the tights. These days, however, it’s possible to play Dum Dum Dugan in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, then go on to play Damien Darhk in the Arrowverse. When Chris Evans was initially cast as Captain America, fans went ballistic. How can the Human Torch also be Steve Rogers?!? It wasn’t the end of the world, but the fan outrage might have made you think they were casting Gilbert Gottfried as Aquaman.
As we now know, you can be in a bad superhero movie and then later be in a better one. Chris Evans IS Captain America to many fans. Note too that Michael Chiklis, also one of the core heroes in a terrible Fantastic Four movie, is now Captain Barnes (AKA The Executioner) on the DC prequel series Gotham. So yeah, it happens. See entry #1 for further proof.
10. Kylo Ren: Adam Driver
Where were you when you heard that Hannah’s boyfriend from Girls was going to play the son of Han Solo and Princess Leia? If you were like most grown-up Star Wars fans, you were neck-deep in a sea of anguish. Really. People were extremely unhappy to be forced to consider that a goth-poseur like Adam Driver could do justice to the dark side of the Force. But he did. Some non-hardcore Star Wars fans have come to wonder how the diehards so easily forget that the kind of people who go to the dark side are impatient, whiny, and highly self-absorbed. That’s why they can’t hack the rigorous self-denial that comes with being a Jedi. Sure, we all hate Hayden Christiansen because he was whining and acting like a big baby. Duh, that’s exactly the kind of person who goes over to the dark side.
Adam Driver, we later learn, is not anything like any of the characters he plays. That’s why it’s called “acting.” Star Wars: The Force Awakens became known as the best franchise entry in decades (though Rogue One was even better), in no small part thanks to Kylo Ren. We can’t wait to see what he’ll do in The Last Jedi.
9. Aileen Wuornos: Charlize Theron
Casting for movies based on real people can be especially problematic. It’s probably not accurate to say that infamous murderess Aileen Wuornos had “fans” in the traditional sense. But as the first woman to fit the FBI’s definition of a “serial killer,” plenty of people were concerned with her being portrayed accurately and fairly in the 2003 movie, Monster. Wuornos was also poor, a prostitute, and gay—a trifecta of circumstances that are often portrayed badly (by which we mean factually incorrectly) in films.
When Charlize Theron was announced as Wuornos, her fan base was surprised that she’d want to play such a person. Serial killer buffs were outraged at the idea that some Hollywood beauty was about to turn a tragic biopic into what they assumed would be a lusty lesbian urban legend. Those buffs were mistaken. Monster was a well-done and largely accurate film, and Theron was inspired, if unrecognizable, in the lead role.
8. Hulk: Ruffalo, Bana, Norton
For older fans, Bill Bixby will always be The Hulk. For fans too young to know who Bill Bixby is, Hulk gets a little more complicated. First of all, Bixby played “David Banner,” even though we all know now that his proper name is Bruce. Secondly, the literal Hulk was played by famed bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno. Thirdly, every Hulk since has been met with derision or downright hate.
Ang Lee’s Hulk featured Eric Bana as the lead in a film that works on most levels, except maybe the whole killer poodle thing. Bana was solid in a great story that seemed to go over a few people’s heads. That Hulk, they complained, didn’t have enough smash. Ed Norton seemed like the Banner/Hulk fans had been waiting for…until he was replaced in the MCU by Mark Ruffalo. Why? For reasons we’ll never know? Because of Norton being a diva on set–again? What we do know is that there hasn’t been a bad Hulk movie—so there couldn’t have been a truly bad Hulk.
7. Jim Morrison: Val Kilmer
A movie about celebrated psychedelic rock band The Doors was touted as early as the mid-1970s, but they didn’t get serious about casting it for another decade. Hot names of the day were thrown around, like Jason Patrick from The Lost Boys and Michael Hutchence from the band INXS. They both had the look fans expected. Frontman Jim Morrison was either a tortured poetic genius or a drunken womanizing buffoon, depending on who you asked. The film did its best to be truthful about this, while showcasing the impact that he and his band had on music, art, and what it meant to be a rock star.
When cast as the Doors frontman, Val Kilmer was best known for Nick Rivers in Top Secret! and “Ice Man” in the ’80s dude-bro-fest Top Gun. To think that he could play Morrison seemed like an exercise in futility. The Doors turned out to be one of Oliver Stone’s better films, and one of the least historically contested. Kilmer was awesome as Morrison. In fact, critics have argued it was the last time Val Kilmer was awesome at anything.
6. Katniss Everdeen: Jennifer Lawrence
One might think that beloved kids or YA books might be free from the fan-based vitriol that grown-up movies face over casting. But readers were enraged when a poor girl from a poor district was cast as ** gasp ** a person of color! Apparently, including cast members of color (or women, gay, trans, or otherwise not-entirely-vanilla-mainstream) is “just for PC” in some minds. Admitting that women, non-white, non-straight, or non-cis people do things or can be heroes is just too much for some people.
Meanwhile, when Jennifer Lawrence was cast as defiant archer Katniss Everdeen, she was met with tons of shade. Complaints she was “too ugly,” or that her “hips are too big,” or that she “wasn’t feminine enough,” to lead a revolution fell on deaf ears. These days, most people agree that J-Law was somewhere between “fine” and “amazing” as Katniss. Even if she is “the worst part of The Hunger Games,” the enormous box office indicates that the series was well liked around the world.
5. The Joker: Nicholson, Ledger
Is it possible that Caesar Romero is the only Joker who isn’t reviled by some portion of the fan base? Quite possibly. In the late 1980s, common moviegoers only knew about the corny Batman of Adam West. So they didn’t realize that while entertaining, Jack Nicholson was a far cry from the original intent of The Joker (who was really more a The Man Who Laughs type). Some might say Nicholson wasn’t as lambasted as he deserved to be, in hindsight, at least in terms of comic book accuracy.
But when the guy from Brokeback Mountain and some teen romance movies was cast as The Joker, fans outrage hit previously unthinkable volumes. Who can blame them? How could we have known that Ledger would dive into the role with an intensity that (arguably) killed him? We defy anyone to say anything negative about The Joker as played by Ledger.
A few years later, Jared Leto was tapped to play the Clown Prince of Crime in Suicide Squad, and some fans waited for lighting to strike twice, seemingly having learned their lesson from the supervillain’s last casting. Unfortunately, Leto’s take ultimately proved to be the most divisive take on Batman’s arch-nemesis to date. The Joker may be too much of an enigma to ever cast perfectly, but Ledger is the closest we’ve seen.
4. Norman Bates: Highmore, Perkins, Vaughn
Famed killer character Norman Bates has always been played by actors who were far too attractive. Believe it or not, Vince Vaughn comes closest to affecting the effeminate, doughy, ineffectual Norman that Robert Bloch wrote about. And yet—he’s the Norman everyone hates most. When Anthony Perkins was cast to play Bates, the few who knew the whole story were appalled. A handsome leading man was going to play a mama’s boy killer? Nobody wanted it. But 1960’s Psycho, as we all now know, was a smashing, genre-changing success.
More recently, the A&E prequel series, Bates Motel, cast Freddie Highmore as a young Norman (who ages into the murderer of the first film). Again, he’s too cute. But if you’ve seen the show, you know that the utmost respect is paid to the source material, and that Highmore is simply spectacular as Norman. We wonder if he isn’t a little mentally odd himself—as he has such an incredible grasp of the finer points of insanity. Every Norman Bates casting choice (even Henry Thomas in Psycho IV) has been questioned and besmirched. But they’ve all turned out pretty amazing in the end.
3. James Bond: Daniel Craig
Not everyone is a fan of James Bond. In fact, many viewers think James Bond as portrayed by Connery, Moore, Dalton, or even Brosnan are what a 12-year-old boy thinks it must be like to be a spy. All cool cars, fancy drinks, and scantily clad ladies who say “No” when they really mean “Of course, James, I could never refuse you…unless my husband comes back early.” So when it was announced that someone blonder and less stereotypically dashing was about to become a 007, fans did not like. Even director Sam Mendes has admitted to calling Craig’s casting as Bond, “a terrible idea.” (At the time, that is.)
These days, many people agree that Daniel Craig may just be the best 007 of them all. He brought oodles of new fans, including tons of young people, into the franchise fandom. Craig’s Bond taught us that you can be respectful to women and still get laid all over the place. He taught us that Bond can survive torture, mourn M and a lost love, and even eschew homophobia while still being a man’s man.
2. Vito Corleone: Marlon Brando
We believe in America. America has made our fortune. So when we heard that Marlon Brando was the last person the studio wanted to appear in The Godfather, we were pretty surprised. While author Mario Puzo wanted Brando and no one else to play the title role, Paramount approached everyone from Orson Welles, George C. Scott, Edward G. Robinson, Laurence Olivier, and Anthony Quinn to play Don Vito. Fans of Brando, and of the novel, agreed that the fiery heartthrob was not the guy to play the Corleone patriarch.
And yet…The Godfather is one of the most revered, lauded, and universally respected films of all time. Brando won an Oscar for what amounts to a pretty small role, dialogue-wise. He didn’t accept the award though, sending Native American actress Sachine Littlefeather to refuse the award in his stead. She announced (to boos from the audience) that Brando was refusing the award to protest the treatment of Native Americans by the film industry. If nobody reads the news, we can all pretend that it worked, and that Native Americans are treated better today. But we digress.
1. Batman: Keaton, Affleck, Kilmer, Clooney, Bale
Has there ever been a character whose casting (and recasting) has been more hotly debated than the Dark Knight? We can’t see how. Michael Keaton was the first Batman to send fans into a frothy rage—even given (as we mentioned earlier) that most of these frothing fans weren’t even comic book readers. Keaton was a perfectly good Batman, though maybe not the best Bruce Wayne ever. Subsequent Batmen and Bruce Waynes have varied. No matter who was cast, fans always complained a bit, and it almost always worked out. Okay, that nonsense with Poison Ivy and Mr. Freeze was awful. Otherwise, though, most Batman movies have ranged from pretty good to flat-out awesome.
Batfleck though? We’ve never heard such vitriol. Bale never got anywhere near the hate that Ben did, and not just because of how much we all hated Daredevil. These days, Ben Affleck’s lone performance as the Caped Crusader is considered by most to be one of the lone bright spots of Batman v Superman, and interest is definitely piqued as to where the actor will take Bruce Wayne from here. We feel sure that DC’s answer to Iron Man (yes, we know that doesn’t work chronologically, calm down) will continue to inspire both love and ire from fans until moviemaking ceases to exist.
We’d love to hear how you felt when you heard about these casting choices — and whether or not that changed later on — in the comments!