A lot of what separates the good comic book movies and TV shows from the bad comes down to casting. A good cast can connect fans to the film, and a bad one can more or less ruin a character across the lifespan of a franchise. What’s more, given how much the success of superheroes rely on the supporting cast around them, it’s an aspect of filmmaking that demands close attention.
We’ve dreamt up plenty of ideal casts for movies far in the future, or current films with golden age actors. This list, however, is a testament to the hardworking professionals who actually make the decisions, and sometimes get things very, very right.
The below list represents some of the best comic book castings to date across both TV and film. These are the 15 Absolutely Perfect Comic Book Movie Castings.
15. Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool
After his first appearance as part of a superhero film almost sank the X-Men franchise, and his second made Green Lantern one of the biggest failures of the superhero genre, Ryan Reynold’s turn as Deadpool might not seem like the obvious choice. And yet, it’s hard to imagine Deadpool breaking as many box office records as it did without him. To put it simply: he gets Deadpool. He’s been campaigning to play Wade Wilson for nearly a decade, even after his turn in the first Wolverine. His take on the Merc with a Mouth was exactly the right combination of smart aleck vigilante and self-aware superhero parody that comic book fans know, love and expected from the movie. What’s more, Reynolds’ genuine and authentic love of the material and character shines through in the film, in a way that few can match.
14. Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man
Recasting Iron Man is something that Marvel might not have to worry about for at least another decade, but, when they get there, it’s going to be a problem. Robert Downey Jr’s performance as Tony Stark didn’t just redeem Downey’s career, it pretty much saved Iron Man’s as well. Before Marvel cast him in the role, Iron Man was a relatively unknown character, but nowadays him and Downey are almost inseparable. Comic book sales have risen sharply, and Downey (not to mention whoever cast him) is to thank for it. The entire MCU owes its current popularity to the man. Downey has Stark’s devil-may-care attitude and witty narcissism down to a science, and at this point he’s almost just as much of a billionaire playboy philanthropist as the character he plays. In any case, whoever follows in his footsteps is going to have their work cut out for them.
13. Michael Cera as Scott Pilgrim
Relatable heroes in comic book movies are a must these days, and Michael Cera’s casting as Scott Pigrim in Edgar Wright’s adaptation of the Bryan Lee O’Malley graphic novels pushed that idea to its limit. For those not familiar with his other roles, Michael Cera was almost a dead ringer for the titular Canadian slacker. He’s awkward, nervous and quiet at all the right moments, making his struggle to become the hero in his own story that much more of a journey. He’s also, somehow, a little bit cool, convincingly playing the bass in his band, Sex Bob-Omb. It’s a testament to how relatable Cera makes the performance that he can sell lines like “Bread makes you fat?” and “I skimmed it.” It’s hard to even conceive that anyone else was considered for the role.
12. Chloe Grace Moretz as Hit Girl
Though she certainly had notable roles and performances before it, Chloe Grace Moretz’s turn as Hit Girl in Kick-Ass is really what sparked her Hollywood career. Not only a physical match for the part, She brought a wicked delight to the character both as Mindy and as her fearsome vigilante persona. She’s tough as nails, just like her character is in the comics, and, given how hit-and-miss child actors can be in comic book adaptations, a godsend for the Kick-Ass franchise. After Kick-Ass 2 recieved a more mixed reaction, it’s unknown if she’ll ever reprise the role but director Matthew Vaughn (responsible for the first but not second film) has publicly floated the idea of a Hit-Girl-focused prequel – though whether Moretz would be too old for the role at that point might present further problems. At this point, it’s hard to imagine the franchise without it’s purple-haired killing machine.
11. Danai Gurira as Michonne
If there is any truly perfect comic book casting to be found in AMC’s The Walking Dead, they come the form of Dana Gurira’s Michonne. Not just content with looking the part, Gurira brought the same quiet fury to the character that she carries in the comics. From her enigmatic debut at the end of the second season to her potential exit at the end of the most recent one, Gurira has nailed the role of Michonne time and time again. She’s even managed to sell us on Michonne’s rehabilitation and development as a character. No matter what the writers of the show throw at Gurira, she always delivers the goods and it’s hard to imagine anything – save a radical reimaginging – being able to top her performance.
10. Chris Pratt as Starlord
On paper, it seems tricky to imagine Parks & Recreations‘ Chris Pratt making good on both the jump from network comedy to big screen blockbuster and the role of Starlord. Luckily for him, Pratt’s childish nature and unorthodox approach to the character made him perfect for the part. Equal parts Han Solo and Marty McFly, Pratt acts, and looks, like a big kid playing at being a space pirate and his ability to ground it all in the loss of his mother just brings together the whole endeavor. Pratt even stole his Starlord costume from the set in order to make an in-character appearances for sick kids. Both on and off the screen, he’s just the right kind of actor you want to lead a superhero movie as unconventional as Guardians of the Galaxy. What’s more, his ability to bounce off the rest of the cast makes it hard to imagine anyone else in the role.
9. Erica Durance as Lois Lane
Between Tom Welling’s humanistic Clark Kent and Michael Rosenbaum’s ambitious take on Lex Luthor, CW’s Smallville had its fair share of great comic book castings. However, the clear standout here has to come from Erica Durance. Durance brought a ton of energy and even more snark to Lois Lane. By the end of Smallville’s run she could nail the distinctive voice of the Daily Planet’s sharpest reporter in her sleep. Perhaps more importantly, the way she gradually built up the character’s relationship with the young Clark Kent – taking him under her journalistic wing – added new layers to their relationship in a way that DC’s big screen efforts haven’t been able to manage for some time. When her and Clarke finally commit to marrying at the end of the series, it feels earned and like the start of another, even grander, adventure for the both of them.
8. Heath Ledger as The Joker
In the eyes of everyday cinema-goers, Heath Ledger’s turn as The Joker took the character from one of the best Batman villains to one of the best villains in cinema. He’s a force of nature in the role, bringing a borderline psychopathic bent to the character. He took both the surface level attributes of the character and stirred them together with an anarchic spark to deliver a performance that helped elevate The Dark Knight to Oscar-worthy. Infamously, Ledger developed his take on the character by locking himself in a motel-room for six weeks – later emerging with a character equal parts Sid Vicious and Alex De Large. He even developed The Joker’s make-up for the film himself. Both on and off the screen, Ledger owned the character. While many are skeptical of Suicide Squad’s new take on the character, it’s a testament to the power of Ledger’s performance that that’s how far DC have to go to try and avoid standing in his shadow.
7. Charlie Cox as Daredevil
Of all Marvel’s TV efforts, it’s hard to imagine any single character better cast than Charlie Cox’s Daredevil. His quiet voice and graceful-but-precise mannerisms make his scenes during the day a delight, particularly when they take place in a courtroom. What’s more, his guilt-ridden performance as Murdock’s brooding alter ego is just as magnetic. He captures everything that makes Daredevil interesting and embodies it; it’s a shame we won’t get to see him interact with the greater Marvel universe anytime soon. Like the best comic book castings, he’s got a great grip on both sides of the character. His performance makes it easy to get inside the mindset of his character and lose yourself in the vivid hyperviolence of Hell’s Kitchen. Stylish direction, editing and production design help elevate Cox’s work on Daredevil to the stuff of comic book legend and it’ll be a delight to see him cross paths with Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist in the upcoming Defenders miniseries.
6. Nicholas Cage as Big Daddy
Sure, it’s hard to break away from just seeing him as Nicolas Cage, but the manic intensity he brought to Big Daddy in Kick-Ass is a major part of what makes the movie work. While he doesn’t quite match up to the appearance of his comic book counterpart, Cage’s versatility shines through. He’s incredibly memorable during the scene (which went viral in the lead up to the film’s release) where he guns Mindy down to help her learn how to take a bullet. He’s able to convey the righteous, Terminator-esque fury of the character during the fight scenes and is more than a worthy match for Moretz’s Hit Girl. Together they comprise one of the best father-daughter relationship in superhero films, selling their outlandish origin story with ease. Cage even throws a little Adam West into his performance to keep things interesting, layering on the references and allusions to comic book canon all the way until his death.
5. Patrick Stewart as Charles Xavier
A near mythic figure in the X-Men comics, it’s almost unbelievable that Professor Charles Xavier was cast so well in the first X-Men movie. Star Trek alum Patrick Stewart was the perfect face for the mentor and commander of the titular mutants, with his sophisticated voice only adding further to the gravitas of his performance. A fan-favorite for the role since the 1980s, Stewart was one of the first actors to be cast in the film and the only actor director Bryan Singer had in mind for the role. His performance across the X-Men franchise is iconic in pop culture, with his chemistry (and rivalry) with Ian McKellan’s Magneto laying a lot of the groundwork for First Class, Days of Future Past and most recently Apocalypse. Considering how early he’s killed off in The Last Stand, you’ll find few performances across the eight-film series as consistent – not to mention majestic – as that of Patrick Stewart’s.
4. Tom Hiddleston as Loki
The fact that Tom Hiddleston has gone down as Marvel’s most memorable villain to date is as much a credit to the character of Loki as it is Hiddleston’s performance. Loki might be just as twisted and cruel as supervillains like Whiplash and Ronan the Accuser but his highly personal motivations give Hiddleston the chance to deliver a character every bit as interesting as Marvel’s heroes. Hiddleston actually initially auditioned for the role of Thor but walked away with Loki instead, impressing Marvel’s casting team with his passion and anger he brought to his performance. According to Hiddleston, his take on the character is based on a myriad of influences from King Lear’s Edmund to Peter O’Toole, Jack Nicholson and Clint Eastwood. Loki might be the villain but with Hiddleston playing the character, he’s more sympathetic than most, and his legion of online fans are keen to see him return in the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok.
3. Christopher Reeve as Superman/Clark Kent
Superman is a tricky character to write and an even trickier one to play. Though the man of steel has had a number of actors portray him, it’s hard not to give credit where it’s due to Christopher Reeve. Reeve was responsible for what many consider to be Superman’s best big-screen outings and was one of the few who played the role who could jump between and understand both Superman and Clark Kent. According to him, “there must be some difference stylistically between Clark and Superman. Otherwise, you just have a pair of glasses standing in for a character.” Based on the reactions to Henry Cavill’s performance as the character in both Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, maybe he could learn something from Reeve here. Plenty of actors can look the part of Superman but few can sell the character as well as Reeve could, capturing the relatable and kind-natured do-gooder underneath all the Kryptonian superpowers.
2. JK Simmons as J Jonah Jameson
Much like Patrick Stewart’s casting as Professor X, JK Simmons turn as J. Jonah Jameson in Sam Raimi’s Spiderman films was an initially-unexpectedly but ultimately perfect bit of comic book casting. His eccentric yelling and bombastic egotism made him a perfect fit for the role, so much so that Marc Webb’s Amazing Spider-Man films didn’t even attempt to recast the character. At this point, Simmons’ take on the character is so lasting that’s it hard to even read Spider-Man comics and not hear his voice. He brought just the right kind of self-importance and distinctive personality to the part, so much so that his performance has lived on through memes and fan support in two franchise reboots since his appearance in Raimi’s trilogy of Spider-Man films. Who knows, maybe Marvel will listen to fans and bring him back to reprise the role in the upcoming Tom Holland-led Spider-Man: Homecoming.
1. Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach
Zack Snyder’s Watchmen film is very much more about style than substance but even diehard Watchman fans won’t argue that Jackie Earle Haley performance as Rorsharch wasn’t on-point. He delivered the character’s nihilistic rants and journal entries with gravelly sourness and turned truly terrifying once the mask came off the character. He delivered dramatic lines like “Never compromise, not even in the face of Armageddon,” and “None of you understand. I’m not locked up in here with you. You’re locked up in here with me,” with zealous conviction, making his turn as the masked vigilante one of the stronger parts of the film. What’s more, it’s a testament to the quality of his performance that his death at the hands of Dr. Manhattan during the film’s anticlimactic ending proved itself an emotionally-loaded moment.
What perfect comic book castings would you put on your list?