It’s been something of a surprising year on the comic book movie front. Back at this time in 2013 none of us could have predicted that Batman and Superman would have a summer movie to rival Marvel’s Avengers 2 in 2015, or that Avengers 2 would be all about a killer robot named Ultron, let alone big-twist casting announcements like Ben Affleck as the new Batman and James Spader playing said killer robot.

Indeed, “casting” has been the main theme of the last 365 days in superhero movie news, with both Marvel Studios and DC Entertainment taking some big risks on unconventional actor picks to help catapult some obscure and/or big risk films to box office success. From Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel voicing a warrior raccoon and tree alien in Guardians of the Galaxy (respectively), to the controversy of BatAffleck and Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman – to the more recent news of Paul Rudd splitting Ant-Man duties with Michael Douglas… We’re asking: Which studio is taking the wilder casting risks right now?

GROUND RULES

There’s a poll on the last page if you just want to get your vote on and start arguing in the comments. Otherwise, we’ll discuss the films individually in order of release date, according to These Rules:

  1. We are only discussing the big 2 (DCE and Marvel Studios). If we had to get into crazy casting decisions that third-party studios like Sony (Spider-Man) or Fox (X-Men) make, this whole discussion would go off the rails.
  2. We are only discussing CONFIRMED casting announcements. Again, if we opened the door to all the rumors, it’d be a doorway to madness.
  3. We are only discussing CONFIRMED movies. We’ll try to update if anything new breaks – but for now, Justice League is off the table.

At the end of the discussion, we’ll pool our findings for an overall verdict on which studio is taking the bigger risks. CLICK HERE if you just want the final verdict.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier


Release date: April 4, 2014

NEW ADDITIONS: Robert Redford, Anthony Mackie, Frank Grillo, Emily VanCamp

RISK ASSESSMENTCaptain America 2 is on pretty solid ground. For this political-thriller superhero sequel, Marvel added an additional splash of color to their universe (Mackie), added some recent standout character actors in supporting roles (Grillo from The Greyand VanCamp from ABC’s Revenge), as well as a heavyweight icon (Redford). Pretty smart.

With Chris Evans, ScarJo and Sam Jackson also coming back to add their star power to the mix, the Winter Soldier cast is poised to lure in any and all demographics on the chart.

OVERALL RISKLow – This is the one superhero film where nobody’s really complaining about casting. That’s a milestone of some kind.

Guardians of the Galaxy


Release Date: August 1, 2014

NEW ADDITIONS: Bradley Cooper (Voice), Vin Diesel (Voice/mo-cap), Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Benicio Del Toro, Michael Rooker, Djimon Hounsou, Glenn Close, John C. Reilly, Karen Gillan, Lee Pace.

RISK ASSESSMENT: So, your mission is to launch one of your more obscure and strange comic book titles as a massive “Avengers in Space” franchise with multimedia aspirations. How do you do it? Why, by shelling out the dough for a massive cast!

See, you take a mix of serious upcoming talent (Pratt, Saldana, Gillan, Pace); anchor them with some prestige-level veteran talent (Close, Del Toro) and reliable character actors (Reilly, Rooker); and for good measure, you get some A-list stars in the group (Diesel, Cooper), in order to attract  mainstream attention to your weird movie.


Hey, we’ve seen worse plans, and like Captain America 2Guardians of the Galaxy has stacked the deck as best one can in the casting department. Picking Pratt (Parks and RecZero Dark Thirty) could turn out to be a stroke of genius, and when word hits the mainstream about Bradley Cooper voicing a space raccoon with guns, Guardians is going to get some serious hard looks from the average viewer. Best take advantage.

OVERALL RISK:  Moderate – We have no idea if director James Gunn was able to make his cast gel, if some of them (Bautista) are even up to the task – not to mention, what they all look like all dressed up in funky future/alien garb.

The Avengers: Age of Ultron


Release Date: May 1, 2015

NEW ADDITIONS: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Thomas Kretschmann, James Spader

RISK ASSESSMENT: So far, Avengers 2 has taken a “smarter, not bigger,” approach to casting. Taylor-Johnson (Kick-Ass) and Elizabeth Olsen (Oldboy) are fast-rising cinephile favorites, and they’re both about to get a major mainstream boost this year, thanks to playing the leads in Godzilla. Adding them to the Avengers roster as Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch couldn’t come at a better time. 


On the villain front, Kretschmann (WantedKing Kong) is a very reliable German character actor playing an iconic German villain (Baron von Strucker, that’s a no-brainer); meanwhile, James Spader made the jump back to network TV with The Blacklist and has already netted himself a Golden Globe nomination for playing that show’s anti-hero/villain. There’s just no substitute for good Spader – which is why we’re so excited to see him as a killer robot.

All in all, the new Avengers 2 casting additions inspire a lot of confidence.

OVERALL RISKLow – You could bet on any one of the new additions and it’d be a solid bet. Together, they’re aces.

Batman vs. Superman


Release Date: July 17, 2015

NEW ADDITIONS:  Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, More TBA

RISK ASSESSMENT: Despite a list of actors stilled rumored for parts, the only official new additions recruited for Batman vs. Superman are Ben Affleck as Batman and Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. But boy, have those two casting announcements made an impact, as the future of DC and Warner Bros.’ movie universe hangs in the balance…

Fanboys always watch each comic book movie casting announcement like it’s a major headline, but it’s rare when comic book movie casting DOES make major headline news – and casting an Oscar-winning writer/director/all-around star like Ben Affleck as Batman did just that. People might still currently know Gal Gadot as “that Fast & Furious chick,” but the news that Wonder Woman is coming to a movie screen soon has been its own headline-grabber.


Right now though, this all has a big asterisk hanging over it: There are villains yet to be cast (Lex Luthor, possibly Doomsday), and we know additional stars (like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) are currently being courted for the DC Movie Universe – but where and when they’ll officially show up remains to be seen. This section could be getting some significant updates in the near future.

OVERALL RISKHigh – Even with just two significant pieces of casting, DC Entertainment is betting a lot of chips in a high stakes game that could begin showing cracks from the moment we finally get a look at Batman’s new costume or Wonder Woman’s supposed battle armor. And if it goes wrong, it’s likely that it’ll all go wrong for the studio’s Justice League plans. No pressure.

Ant-Man


Release Date: July 31, 2015

NEW ADDITIONS:  Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, More TBA

RISK ASSESSMENTAnt-Man has the challenge of stepping into the wake of Avengers 2 and kick-ing off Marvel Phase 3 in an exciting way – quite a colossal task for a diminutive hero. In order to sell the public (beyond fanboy circles) Marvel has unveiled an ambitious casting plan: Place signature charm-guy Paul Rudd (This Is 40) in the central role with supporting gravitas from none other than Michael Douglas.

Like with Guardians of the Galaxy, the approach seems to be mixing veteran prestige talent (Douglas) with charming up-and-coming talent (Rudd), in order to rally fans behind a lead they can like, while piquing mainstream interest in the obscure (and dangerously close to silly) superhero film via the involvement of an acting heavyweight. The only problem with that plan is the story that director Edgar Wright seems to be telling.


With Douglas playing fan-favorite veteran Avenger Hank Pym, and Rudd playing Scott Lang, a later incarnation of the character, the implication seems to be that Ant-Man will be taking a very different approach to the source material. Right now, not even Marvel fans are secure in the studio’s departures from canon – if Iron Man 3 is any indication.

OVERALL RISKHigh – Ant-Man is a HARD sell to the average viewer, and making significant changes to the character and his lore means that not even hardcore fans are going to necessarily be behind this project. That’s a lot of pressure left on writer/director Edgar Wright to really warm audiences over with his creatively fun filmmaking prowess. 

CONCLUSION – The Biggest Risk


While Marvel is banking on new talent and solid veteran actors to help sell their more obscure or hard-sell properties, DC is literally betting the farm on some casting choices that only seem to split their fanbase down the middle with each and every announcement.

People far and wide will surely flock to see the new Batman and the first movie incarnation of Wonder Woman (among other highlights of Batman vs. Superman) – but the moment they decide they don’t like either or both actors in those iconic roles, the Justice League movie battle goes from uphill to mountainous climb.

So while this can all indeed change in the blink of one great piece of casting news (will it be Bryan Cranston for Lex Luthor? Or additional characters filling out Ant-Man? Or how about the BIG rumors about which stars – Johnny Depp, Joaquin Phoenix – could be joining these universes?) at the current moment we’re forced  to say:

BIGGEST RISK: DC Entertainment

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier hits theaters on April 4, 2014, Guardians of the Galaxy on August 1, 2014The Avengers: Age of Ultron on May 1, 2015, Ant-Man on July 31, 2015.

Batman vs. Superman will be in theaters on July 17, 2015.

Follow me and discuss all this and more TV/Movie news – @ppnkof