These days, it seems that comic book adaptations are the hottest thing on screen. Geeks everywhere are celebrating as Marvel and DC continue to pump out newer, bigger and better live-action superhero films and series than ever before! Both of these comic book giants are creating complex, interconnected worlds where all of our favorite characters are brought to life… sometimes, more than once.
It’s no surprise that many of the properties that are part of this new golden age of superheroes have graced our screens before. Whether it’s a flagship character who has been the focus of multiple offerings (Batman, Superman) or a character who is being taken from the big to the small screen (Daredevil), or even just a reboot of a beloved team who didn’t get it right the first time around (Fantastic Four) – we are seeing multiple versions of our heroes brought to life.
The biggest question here, of course, is who did it better?! Which actor has the better costume, the more appropriate overall look, and the most comic-accurate backstory? Or, if the point of the series/film is to put a new spin on the character – which one best captures the general spirit of the original? With a new Batman and a new Spider-Man on the horizon, we thought we’d take a look at who does it better.
Get ready for a head-to-head battle to find out who is the best superhero!
Daredevil: Charlie Cox v Ben Affleck
The Man Without Fear has appeared twice in live-action. First, back in 2003 in the movie of the same name, self-confessed comic book nerd Ben Affleck took on the character. However, the movie was a flop, and is often regarded one of the worst live-action comic book films of all time. The character of Daredevil was largely forgotten about by studios after that, until earlier this year when Netflix and Marvel teamed up to bring us a new series starring Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock.
This superhero face-off isn’t a tough one. Despite Affleck’s’ acting chops, his version of Daredevil is simply too over-the-top for a character who is largely unassuming, even in his costume. Daredevil is something of a ninja superhero – silent, comfortable in the darkness and the shadows (for obvious reasons), and impressively restrained. Affleck’s version was overblown and obvious. He had a plainclothes battle in a playground, for pete’s sake! While most (if not all) of this can be blamed on the poor writing and direction, it’s definitely the lesser of the two Murdocks.
Charlie Cox, on the other hand, has a wonderfully reserved and quiet take on the character. His soft spoken and modest Matt is perfect for creating contrast with the brutality of the man as a fighter. There’s little doubt that a large part of Daredevil’s huge success is due to this incredible portrayal of one of Marvel’s biggest heroes.
Batman: Michael Keaton v Christian Bale v Val Kilmer v George Clooney v Adam West
With a character as iconic as Batman, it should come as no surprise that this is a superhero who has been brought to life again and again. The first man to tackle the Dark Knight was Adam West, in the 1960s TV series and follow-up film. Then, in the late ‘80s and ‘90s, Batman was resurrected in four films starring three different actors; Michael Keaton in Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992), Val Kilmer in Batman Forever (1995), and George Clooney in Batman and Robin (1997). More recently, Batman returned to our screens in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight films (Batman Begins in 2005, The Dark Knight in 2008, The Dark Knight Rises in 2012) where Christian Bale was the man behind the mask.
All five of these actors played very different roles, drawing on different comic stories as inspiration for their characters, which makes them difficult to compare. Adam West’s Batman is especially problematic as it is in a class of its own. His campy, low-budget Bruce Wayne is as far from Christian Bale’s troubled billionaire as it could possibly be, but it’s also the original iconic portrayal of this much-loved character. His costume may be laughable now, but where would we be without his catchphrases? Every Bat-fan the world over has, at some point, uttered the words “Holy [something], Batman!”.
Yet, when it comes to incredible costuming and the kind of dark and gritty portrayal that suits the Bat best, Christian Bale seems to come out on top. Thanks to Nolan’s vision, his Bruce has more depth, more sadness and anger than the rest- something which the comics have in spades.
While the top spot may be hotly contested, the bottom one has some equally strong contenders. Both Kilmer and Clooney suffered in the hands of their ridiculous scripts and silly costumes; although Clooney may edge his way into last place courtesy of one thing: bat-nipples.
Spiderman: Tobey Maguire v Andrew Garfield
Spiderman is about to get a new live-action outing as he comes to the MCU for Captain America: Civil War, but this is far from his first time on screen. Tobey Maguire played the teen web-slinger in Spider-Man (2002), Spider-Man 2 (2004) and Spider-Man 3 (2007), before the franchise was rebooted and the role was re-cast with Andrew Garfield for The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014).
Both franchises have their successes and their failures, and this is a tough battle, not least because many fans were upset to hear that Garfield wouldn’t be able to make the move to the MCU along with Peter Parker. While Tobey did an incredible job playing a complete loser in Spider-Man, and did some serious soul-searching later in the trilogy, there was just something missing. Spidey isn’t just a geek who got lucky, he’s a science nerd and a wiseass who taunts his foes with witty quips. A huge element of his popularity is his humor, which came through far more in Garfield’s version of the wall-crawler.
In fact, the biggest criticism levelled at Garfield as Spider-Man seems to be that he’s just a little too good-looking for us to buy him as the quintessential high school loser. This may be true, but is it enough to give Maguire the lead?
Catwoman: Halle Berry v Michelle Pfeiffer v Anne Hathaway v Camren Bicondova
Another iconic character with a slew of on-screen appearances, we’ve seen some incredible versions of Catwoman over the years… and at least one less-than-incredible offering. In 1992, Michelle Pfeiffer was the first to bring Selina Kyle to life in Batman Returns, followed by the ill-fated solo outing Catwoman (2004) starring Halle Berry. The character returned for The Dark Knight Rises in 2012, played by Anne Hathaway, and now Selina Kyle has found a home on the TV series Gotham, where she is played by Camren Bicondova.
While many people consider Pfeiffer to be the iconic Catwoman, there are multiple issues with this version of the character. Yes, that ripped-and-stitched suit is stunning, but it’s an invention from the wonderful mind of Tim Burton, not the comic books themselves. Her backstory is also off-book; the mousy secretary brought back from the dead by… magic? Magical cats? The film is visually stunning, and her relationship with Batman is wonderful, but Selina herself is far from her original character.
Halle Berry’s Catwoman is even worse, but without the awesome costume to balance it out. Again, a mousy employee – this time not even Selina Kyle, but a new character called Patience Phillips – is murdered and brought back to life by magic, and decides to strap on some black leather and head out on the prowl. The less said about this one, the better.
Which brings us to the two most recent Kyles; Anne Hathaway and Camren Bicondova. Bicondova’s Selina is still a young street kid in Gotham, not yet becoming Catwoman herself, so while her costume and backstory are near-perfect (and we are already seeing the beginnings of her relationship with Bruce Wayne), she’s just not quite there yet. However, watch this space, as Bicondova has the potential to become the best Catwoman yet. Hathaway, on the other hand, seems to check all the right boxes. She’s actually a cat burglar and a badass (finally), she’s stunning, smart, and has a relationship with Bruce Wayne. She even has a costume where the “ears” make some sense! Despite all this, however, many fans felt that her performance was lackluster and without heart.
Mystique: Jennifer Lawrence v Rebecca Romijn
In most cases, characters are re-cast when a franchise is rebooted, or makes the leap between film and TV. However, in this case, Mystique has been played by two actresses within the same franchise as an older and younger version of herself. Rebecca Romjin was first in the role for X-Men (2000), X2 (2003) and X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) before her character’s powers were lost, leaving her effectively out of play for good. When the franchise got a soft reboot in 2011, going back to the ‘60s, Jennifer Lawrence took over the role as a younger Raven for X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014). Lawrence is still contracted to the franchise, and will be reprising her role for X-Men: Apocalypse next year.
There are so many issues with the characters in the original X-Men trilogy that this doesn’t even seem a fair comparison. Often considered the films that kick-started the superhero renaissance, the first X-Men movies were fairly loose in their interpretations of the characters, and while some worked well (Professor X and Magneto, for example), others came under fire for being two-dimensional and too far from the source material. Romjin’s Mystique is also a cut-and-dried villain, whereas Lawrence’s character has far more depth to her, playing in the grey area between hero and villain.
Bruce Banner/The Hulk: Eric Bana v Edward Norton v Mark Ruffalo v Lou Ferrigno
Another character boasting an array of different incarnations, the Hulk was first introduced to TV audiences in the ‘70s, with the series The Incredible Hulk starring Lou Ferrigno as The Hulk. The series then spawned three TV-movies, The Incredible Hulk Returns (1988), The Trial of The Incredible Hulk (1989) and The Death of the Incredible Hulk (1990). More recently, the Hulk returned in 2003, in a film title simply Hulk, and starring Eric Bana. Then, in 2008, Edward Norton took on the role in The Incredible Hulk, before it was given to Mark Ruffalo for The Avengers (2012) and Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015).
Lou Ferrigno stands in a league of his own for this character, (much like Adam West as Batman) because of the time in which he played the Marvel hero. His series, while something of a classic, was low-budget and had no access to the kind of CGI technology that brings the more recent Hulks to life. Fans accepted that the Hulk was simply a powerfully muscled man in green body paint, and enjoyed the stories. Still, in terms of sheer physical size, Ferrigno is clearly the most hulking of these four actors!
With the recent incarnations of Bruce Banner, it seems that third time really was the charm. Eric Bana’s Hulk received mixed reactions, although much of this was to do with the writing rather than the star’s role. Hulk focused more on the dramatic elements of the Hulk story, rather than pure action…which disappointed fans who were more interested in seeing Hulk SMASH. Edward Norton impressed fans with his darker take on the character, showing us a Bruce Banner who was actually quite literally a darker shade of green. It was assumed that this was the Hulk that would be joining the Avengers, until Marvel revealed that they were re-casting.
Ruffalo, our current Hulk, has received praise for combining both the gentle nerdiness of Bana’s Bruce Banner, and Norton’s darker, angrier Hulk. There’s little doubt that he has been given greater opportunities for amazing scenes (like battling Tony Stark in the Hulkbuster armor!), and for many people, Ruffalo nails it. However, his role in Avengers: Age of Ultron upset many fans, as the romantic entanglement with Black Widow met criticism and was considered by many to be unnecessary. Still, he remains the most quotable Hulk, with the incredible line “I’m always angry”.
Superman: Christopher Reeve v Brandon Routh v Henry Cavill v Tom Welling
Possibly the best known superhero in the world (he may tie with Batman for that honor), Superman flew onto screens alongside the Hulk in the ‘70s in the movie Superman (1978), quickly followed up with Superman 2 (1980), Superman 3 (1983) and Superman 4: The Quest For Peace (1987). After nearly twenty years, he was back on the big screen in Superman Returns (2006), played by Brandon Routh, before handing over the reins to Henry Cavill for Man of Steel in 2013. Clark Kent also made an appearance on the small screen, in the hit show Smallville, which ran for ten seasons (2001-2011), where he was brought to life by Tom Welling.
Welling was a brilliant choice for the farmboy, with features that could have strolled right out of the pages of a comic book, and just the right balance of humility, strength, and kindness. However, Smallville frustrated some fans because, despite its length, the majority of the show takes place while Clark is still very young, and hasn’t yet come fully into his powers. The show has even been described as ten seasons of waiting for Superman to fly!
Both Routh and Cavill have done an incredible job of portraying the Man of Steel; and while both Superman Returns and Man of Steel have their critics, their issues lie elsewhere, not with the stars themselves. Routh’s take on the character is much softer and brighter, but often lacks humor. Cavill, on the other hand, manages to be funnier despite the overall darker and more grounded tone of the film.
However, all of these pale next to the iconic superman: Christopher Reeve. Despite the terrible special effects available at the time, and a suit that kept the underwear-outside-the-pants look that has inspired countless jokes, Reeve embodies the charm, humor, strength and righteousness of Superman. He even carried the ethos of Superman over into his real life, staying positive and becoming an activist for others after he was tragically paralyzed in a riding accident. He even managed to thrill Superman fans one more time when he appeared as a guest star in Smallville. Incredible.
The Punisher: Dolph Lundgren v Thomas Jane v Ray Stevenson
Marine-turned-vigilante Frank Castle is a fan-favorite in the Marvel-verse, first brought to life by action star Dolph Lundgren in 1989 for The Punisher. The character was picked up again for the 2004 film of the same name, starring Thomas Jane, before its most recent incarnation in 2008 for Punisher: War Zone when Ray Stevenson took on the role. Walking Dead alum Jon Bernthal will pick up the mantle in the upcoming second season of Daredevil on Netflix.
While Lundgren definitely looks the part, and is possible the most accurate in terms of appearance, the film deviated heavily from the source material and suffers from the usual issues that go along with late ‘80s action movies: poor writing and terrible effects. Lundgren also never donned the trademark skull t-shirt, which left fans disappointed.
Both Jane and Stevenson came a little closer to the take-no-prisoners Punisher that we know from the comics, although Jane’s portrayal was a little more sympathetic than the incredibly dark and violent Frank Castle in Punisher: War Zone. Despite the fact that Jane isn’t quite as built as the other two actors, facially he has the perfect rugged jawline for the mercenary, and wore the most comic-accurate costume of the three.
Green Arrow: Stephen Amell v Justin Hartley
Green Arrow is now a huge name in pop culture, courtesy of the CW series Arrow, starring Stephen Amell as Oliver Queen. However, this is not the first time that the billionaire-turned-vigilante has appeared in live action. Justin Hartley had a fairly major role in the final seasons of Smallville as Green Arrow, going from a guest star to a spot in the title credits.
While Arrow is a hugely popular show, it has come up against some criticism for deviating from the source material. Many characters are almost unrecognizable, appearing with new names, backstories, even personalities. Green Arrow himself manages to bypass much of this, as his story isn’t altered too much; however, he is often called out for lacking the humor and witty comebacks that his comic book inspiration is known for. Amell’s Green Arrow is a much darker, more brooding character, and is physically much more muscular than his counterpart. However, the show makes no secret of the fact that it is putting some intentional twists on the source material, and that as it progresses, these changes actually start to revert to the original material.
Hartley, on the other hand, is a much more comic accurate portrayal of the Green Arrow. His outfits were much closer to the artwork (and actually a bright green, which Amell’s were not, up until this season), and he has the slimmer build that we are used to. We also get to see him as more of his alter ego, the billionaire playboy, and while he has relationships with other characters in the show, he does have a solid romance with Black Canary. However, his appearance in the show is much shorter-lived than that of Amell in Arrow, and doesn’t have anywhere near the same depth. Amell also brings the superhero lifestyle off screen, running charity campaigns and raising money for charity, as well as sending out personal messages and videos to fans.
Mr. Fantastic: Miles Teller v Ioan Gruffudd
The Fantastic Four has appeared in two incarnations on our screens, first in a more comic-accurate offering in 2005 (Fantastic Four) which led to a sequel in 2007 (Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer). The franchise was rebooted this year, with the same title (Fantastic Four), but a new, younger cast and some major changes to the origin story.
Team leader Reed Richards was first played by Ioan Gruffudd, whose tall and lanky frame suited Mr. Fantastic perfectly. Older and wiser than the Reed played by Teller, Gruffudd’s backstory also stayed far more true to the source material. The Teller version revealed more of Reed’s scientific bent, but his costume included an invented chest-piece that he needed to control his powers; something not seen in the comics. Teller’s portrayal also involved a sub-plot where he left his best friend at the mercy of a government group – something that is just too far from the scientist’s character to really encompass the spirit of Reed.
The Human Torch: Michael B. Jordan v Chris Evans
Chris Evans is now better known as the Avengers’ Captain America, but his first superhero role was as the wise-cracking Human Torch. One of the best parts of the original F4 franchise, Evans worked wonderfully as the wise-cracking, cocky kid who just couldn’t see the downside to these newly acquired powers. Some found him to be a little overpowering with his humor and arrogance, but he definitely stuck close to the source material.
Michael Jordan came up against strong opposition when he was first cast; many fans felt that the decision to cast a black Johnny Storm was changing the character too much, especially as Sue Storm remained white. Some fans were concerned that this would mean that the film wouldn’t have Sue and Johnny as siblings, which would have been a huge departure from the comics. However, fears were quickly put to rest when it was revealed that Sue was an adoptive sibling, and when Jordan did a fantastic job of pulling off the sulky teen version of Johnny Storm. However, he lacked the comedic timing of Evan’s performance, and has the same costuming and backstory issues that are part and parcel of the newer movie.
Invisible Girl: Kate Mara v Jessica Alba
The brilliant blonde on the Fantastic Four team, Sue Storm is usually seen as the most reserved of the four, but also one that holds the group together. Her relationships with Reed and Johnny are pivotal, as is her role of something as a mother figure for the group.
While both Alba and Mara did a wonderful job of portraying the Invisible Woman, Mara’s role was clearly less accurate to the comics. Like the rest of the cast, she is much younger, and in this new version Sue is meeting Reed for the first time. One of the biggest changes to her story is also that she does not go on the fateful trip along with the rest of the crew, but is hit by a wave of radiation from the control center. However, given the nature of her character, these changes actually make some sense within the framework of the reboot’s approach; Sue, being the responsible one, simply wouldn’t have got drunk and decided to take the transporter on a test drive. She would have been the one staying back and trying to bring them all home. Mara also does a wonderful job of capturing the same initial reticence and slow warm-up to Reed that is the essence of the original story.
Alba, on the other hand, seemed to lose some of what made Sue a wonderful character. Instead of the strong scientist that Mara presented, Alba’s role is far more of a secondary romantic character for Reed. Her tendancy to mother becomes overbearing at times, and she seems more shrill and nagging than the voice of reason. While much of the issue lies with the writing, Alba’s Sue Storm simply doesn’t live up to the potential that this character possesses.
The Thing: Jamie Bell v Michael Chiklis
The last of the casting match-ups between the two Fantastic Four teams, Ben Grimm is the final member of the crew- first played by Michael Chiklis as the gruff Marine from the comics, then by Jamie Bell as the young best friend to Reed.
While much of the film is spent with these two actors heavily disguised by rock piles (a practical costume for Chiklis, but CGI for Bell), Chiklis still manages to suit the role more than Bell. While Bell brings a certain level of anger and bitterness to the role that we didn’t see in the first Fantastic Four, at times this is actually overdone, and we lose the rest of Ben Grimm to these darker emotions. Chiklis, on the other hand, manages to pull off a more complex Thing; he balances his anger and frustration with a certain amount of stoicism and hope.
Professor Charles Xavier: Sir Patrick Stewart v James McAvoy
The leader of the X-Men, Charles Xavier has appeared in every film in the X-Men franchise. In six out of the seven, Professor X is played by Sir Patrick Stewart, as the older, balder, wheelchair-bound man we know from the comics. However, in X-Men: First Class (2011), we were introduced to a much younger, more reckless Charles in the form of James McAvoy. McAvoy also starred in X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) alongside Sir Patrick Stewart, when we saw both “present” and “future” versions of the character.
While McAvoy does an incredible job of fleshing out the backstory of the Professor, and showing us just how he became the leader that he is in the comics, this is definitely new ground for comic book fans. His relationship with Raven (aka Mystique) is new, along with his relationship to Magneto (Michael Fassbender). His struggle with his powers and the accident that confines him to a wheelchair add incredible depth to a fan favorite, and McAvoy is brilliant in the role.
However, it’s hard to surpass an actor of the caliber of Sir Patrick Stewart. Not only does he physically embody the part, but he manages to project the perfect air of wisdom and care that Professor X stands for. If ever there was a man born to play a comic book character (other than Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark), it would be Sir Patrick Stewart and Professor Charles Xavier.
Shadowcat: Sumela Kay v Katie Stuart v Ellen Page
A fan-favorite, Shadowcat appears in four of the seven X-Men films: X-Men (2000), X2 (2003), X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) and X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014).
Her first appearance in X-Men is only as a cameo, when she is mentioned as a “girl who can walk through walls” during a debate in Congress, followed by a brief moment in which Sumela Kay passes through a door in the school. While this is a great cameo for fans of the comics, as a part without lines, it doesn’t make it into the running alongside Katie Stuart and Ellen Page.
Stuart portrayed Shadowcat in X2, as a very young version of the character who used her phasing ability to help students escape the mansion when it was under attack, as well as to indulge in some well-intentioned theft of government files. While she does have an impact on the story in X2, we still simply don’t get to see enough of the character of Kitty, rather than just her powers, to make a real judgement on Stuart’s interpretation of the mutant.
Finally, Ellen Page appeared in X-Men: The Last Stand as well as Days of Future Past. In both films, she has much more of a pivotal role (especially in Days of Future Past), and we finally get to see more of Shadowcat than her mutant gifts. Ellen brings a wonderful vulnerability to the role, and we get to see her interactions with Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) as their romance blossoms.
Quicksilver: Evan Peters v Aaron Taylor-Johnson
Rights-sharing is an interesting beast, and Quicksilver has the honor of being one of the few characters to appear in both Marvel/Disney and Fox movies. First, we met him in 2014, as a mutant in X-Men: Days of Future Past where he was played by Evan Peters. Then, only a year later, Aaron Taylor-Johnson took on the role in Avengers: Age of Ultron, where Pietro Maximoff is technically an Inhuman, not a mutant.
The Marvel incarnation of the character definitely stays closer to the comics in some ways; in Age of Ultron, Pietro is shown with his sister, Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen)- this incredible pairing is missing in the X-Men version, along with his deep care and the protection of his sister. We also see Pietro and Wanda in Eastern Europe, living alone, taking care of each other- a backstory straight from the comics (although by the end of the film, obviously, this has changed dramatically).
Fox’s Quicksilver is raised in relative luxury in the USA, and appears as a much younger, cockier character. He uses his speed for personal gain, and has no fear of showing off his powers (largely because he knows that no-one will believe him). Far from the family-oriented Pietro Marvel gives us, Fox’s Peter doesn’t seem perturbed that he is driving his mother to distraction, and only agrees to help Professor X for personal gain. However, this actually suits the character in the comics, whose love for his sister is often overshadowed by the less altruistic side of his personality. He also steals the show in an incredible slow-motion scene that showed off his incredible powers to their fullest.
Black Canary: Katie Cassidy v Caity Lotz v Alaina Huffman v Rachel Skarsten
Green Arrow’s love, Black Canary, has appeared in four different forms on TV, although only in three separate shows. She initially appeared in the failed 2002 series Birds of Prey, played by Rachel Skarsten, before Alaina Huffman had a brief guest spot in later seasons of Smallville. Her biggest live-action appearance to date, however, has been in Arrow where both Caity Lotz and Katie Cassidy took on the character. Lotz first appears as Black Canary Sara Lance, and when she is killed, sister Laurel Lance takes up her mantle (although as fans of the show know, Sara returns this season as the resurrected White Canary).
Early incarnations of the character were too brief to really delve into who Dinah Lance really is, although the costuming in Smallville was spot on in terms of comic book accuracy! The real competition is between Sara and Laurel Lance in Arrow, and it’s a hotly debated topic among fans. Both women have had relationships with Oliver Queen, and as sisters, have the same family background. While many fans dislike Laurel for her more emotional personality and her battles with addiction, there is no mistaking that she is still more like the Black Canary that we know from the comics.
Not only did she defy her parent’s wishes to become a vigilante, she trained under Wildcat, and unlike her sister, she possesses the Canary Cry. While she may be far from the perfect live action version of Black Canary, Laurel Lance is definitely the best of the bunch.
As more and more comic book movies and TV shows emerge, we are bound to see more actors taking on roles that have been played before. Ben Affleck will be joining the ranks of Batmen-past when he becomes the Dark Knight in the upcoming Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice, a film that will also see Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman (a role previous played by Lynda Carter). A Green Lantern Corps movie has been announced, which will hopefully remove some of the bad taste left by Ryan Reynold’s 2011 offering, and Channing Tatum will be replacing Taylor Kitsch as Gambit in the near future. As DC and Marvel both expand their cinematic universes (TV and film), this list will only continue to grow, and I cannot wait to see who else joins the superhero club!