The CW’s Arrowverse has built an incredible interconnected superhero tapestry. The world is not only impressive on TV budget, it’s remarkable for any medium.
The universe, or more accurately multiverse, feels alive. It’s full of color, wild adventures and, of course, padded leather. The reason behind this, in large part, is due to the fact that the Arrowverse has done a wonderful job casting their characters across all four major shows.
It hasn’t, sadly, been a universal success story, however. While most of the actors have been perfectly suited for their roles, there are few characters and actors who were greatly mismatched. A great actor can elevate a rather bland role, just as much as the wrong actor can ruin a promising one.
While this list combines the best and worst decisions of the Arrowverse, a disclaimer should be made about the casting mistakes– the awful casting decisions of the Arrowverse aren’t necessarily because the actors are dreadful.
There are, of course, a few examples of terrible performances. Mostly though the casting missteps have been due to the actor being wrong for the role or them making a wrong choice with the character. Just because someone was terrible in the Arrowverse doesn’t mean they’re awful in any role.
Without further ado, here are the 10 Incredible Arrowverse Casting Decisions (and 10 Awful Ones)!
20. Incredible – Stephen Amell as Oliver Queen
Stephen Amell’s Oliver Queen is a radical departure for the comics. Besides being stubborn, emotional, and able to use a bow, the comic version of Ollie and Arrow’s iteration don’t share much in common. Still, Amell has been able to create his own and very special interpretation of the character.
Oliver does spend a lot of time on Arrow brooding but Amell has still found a way to explore degrees of brooding. Arrow’s Oliver is not a performance with a ton of range but it’s still a rather excellent one. Amell brings Oliver to life in a compelling way. In his performance, Amell’s charted the subtle changes in Oliver’s character since season 1.
19. Awful – Helen Slater as Eliza Danvers
The concept of the original cinematic Supergirl, Helen Slater, playing Kara’s adoptive mother on the show is a cute one. The executions of that idea has left a lot to be desired.
Eliza Danvers is not the meatiest role on Supergirl. She pops up very occasionally and her scenes have been extraordinarily brief. Though that could just be because Slater isn’t that good of an actress.
Granted, she hasn’t been given much of substance (outside of Alex’s coming out in season 2) but Eliza is almost always stiff and stilted in her delivery. Eliza is meant to be this kind and nurturing mom. However, in most scenes it feels like Eliza barely knows either of her daughters, let alone loves them dearly.
18. Incredible – Manu Bennett as Slade Wilson
Arrow has taken more than a few liberties with their interpretation of Deathstroke. Manu Bennett is not a perfect recreation of the character from the comics but he’s an incredibly beloved one. It’s because Bennett does a pitch-perfect job bringing his slightly different Deathstroke to life.
For starters, Arrow’s Deathstroke is much more of an anti-hero than a straight-up villain. While the comic Slade Wilson was kind of always a terrible person, the Arrow version was more driven insane by Mirakuru. So Bennett manages to imbue the role with a real humanity but there’s always a sense of the darkness and violence lurking underneath.
Bennett’s Deathstroke does do a lot of gravely whispering and making ominous remarks. However, that never feels repetitive. The actor takes a character that should be a cartoon and makes him into an engaging person.
17. Awful – Casper Crump as Vandal Savage
Casper Crump has an amazing name and an even more impressive widow’s peak. He was, however, a rather underwhelming Vandal Savage. The main baddie of Legends of Tomorrow season 1 left a lot of potential untapped.
It’s not that Crump was giving a bad performance, he just gave a wrong one. Before Legends of Tomorrow found its groove as a bonkers superhero time-traveling comedy, the show tried to take things very straight. It simply didn’t work, and Savage was an unfortunate side-effect of that problem.
Rather than going hammy and over-the-top which would’ve worked far better, Crump played Savage as a very serious villain. There was no sense of fun or even much danger.
16. Incredible – Melissa Benoist as Kara Zor-El
Supergirl is one of the newer series in the Arrowverse. Still the show has asked its lead actress to do quite a lot and Benoist has always succeeded. Supergirl has shown many different sides to Kara, including introducing completely new versions from other Earths.
Somehow, no matter what happens to Kara, Benoist manages to keep the core of the character intact.
The important thing in playing a superhero is to understand the character completely. The situations around the hero can change radically so it’s essential the character’s journey stays steady. That’s something Benoist has done beautifully throughout the series.
15. Awful – Robbie Amell as Ronnie Raymond
It’s incredibly amusing, even if it’s unintentional, how many times Arrowverse has brought Robbie Amell back to kill him off seconds later. Robbie played Ronnie Raymond throughout the first season of The Flash before being killed off (permanently) in the season 2 premiere.
Robbie also played the Earth-2 Ronnie, Deathstorm, and a Speed Force version of Ronnie– all of whom died.
Each time Ronnie has popped though, it’s a sad reminder that Robbie was severely miscast. Robbie Amell is not a bad actor, he’s just best used in a very comedic role. While there were moments of lightness with Ronnie, he wasn’t exactly a “funny” character, being more of a tragic romantic hero.
14. Incredible – Victor Garber as Martin Stein
Legends of Tomorrow and The Flash didn’t always use Victor Garber to his fullest extent. Garber’s Stein became one of many in the large stable of heroes.
It’s no surprise really that he decided to exit Legends of Tomorrow at the start of season 3. Yet when Stein and Garber were a part of the Arrowverse, they were incredible tools at the universe’s disposal.
Almost no Arrowverse actors were more consistently great as Garber. Garber brought an emotionality and humor to Stein that a lesser actor wouldn’t have been able to manage.
13. Awful – Ciara Renee as Hawkgirl
Ciara Renee as Hawkgirl is another example of someone not being a poor actress, but just being wrong for the role. Hawkgirl, with very good reason, is considered one of the worst Arrowverse characters, and very little of that has to do with Renee.
The actress simply didn’t fit the more aggressive and warrior-like Hawkgirl. Renee was great as Kendra Saunders, being adorable and charming as “just a barista.”
It’s when she had to transition into the semi-mortal, reincarnated Hawk Person that she became a lot more unbelievable. Renee fit the model of adorkable love interest, not a warrior princess.
If the Arrowverse or Legends of Tomorrow wanted Kendra to be more the girl-next-door for longer, it could’ve worked. Yet the actress was quickly thrown into a role that too different, too soon. The character floundered as a result and the casting seems to be to blame.
12. Incredible – John Barrowman as Malcolm Merlyn
Realistically, Malcolm Merlyn should’ve been killed off (or written off) after Arrow season 2. However, the show kept his character coming back and back for a long time. It’s hard to blame them too, when the performance of his actor, John Barrowman, is considered.
Barrowman isn’t exactly a household name but in nerd circles he’s rather famous for his work as Captain Jack Harkness. Yet on Arrow he was able to be treated like a full-fledged star. Arrow delighted in writing Malcolm’s witty and acerbic dialogue also as much as Barrowman loved delivering it.
Even though he was incredibly evil and selfish, there was a charisma to Malcolm Merlyn. That charm is a product of Barrowman. He took a ridiculous character from the comics and made him a believable (and threatening) nemesis for Oliver Queen.
11. Awful – Madison McLaughlin as Evelyn Sharp
Evelyn Sharp was the most poorly written part of Arrow’s tightly constructed season 5. Evelyn joining Team Arrow only to betray Olive for being a murderer, by working with a serial killer, made no sense.
She was an illogical mess of a character. So it’s no wonder that her fate was abandoned in the season 6 premiere, but perhaps the worst thing about Evelyn was her casting.
The main problem is that Evelyn was supposed to be threatening, or at the very least be believably unhinged. Madison McLaughlin didn’t manage to pull off either emotion.
The actress is about as formidable as wet paper towel in a monsoon. Furthermore, any attempt she made to have an emotional and moral outburst just felt whiny. It could be argued that it was an acting choice, but it was a bad one.
10. Incredible – Calista Flockhart as Cat Grant
Cat Grant is a ridiculous character. There’s no use even attempting to deny. Supergirl’s first big mentor for Kara is the definition of “over-the-top.”
In almost all her appearances Cat’s incapable of going more than two minutes without some unbelievably clever quip or one-liner dropping from her mouth. Yet for all that can be said of Cat the character not only works, she’s one of Supergirl’s most entertaining figures.
This is down entirely to Calista Flockhart’s performance. The actress takes to her scenery chewing dialogue with such gusto that it turns Cat into a plausible human being. Yet as much fun as Flockhart has with Cat’s loud moments, she’s also capable of playing the rarer quieter ones.
9. Awful – Erica Durance as Alura Zor-El
The casting of Erica Durance as Kara’s biological mother is unique in the Arrowverse. It’s not a bad performance and it’s not even an example of miscasting. The one-time Lois Lane playing the mother of Supergirl is a cool idea– it’s just that Durance has been utterly wasted in the role.
Durance should be a part of Supergirl. To put her in the role of Alura after season 1, since she replaced Laura Benati, is just a huge mistake. Alura is dead, as is her twin sister, Astra.
The meatiest part of her role has already passed when Laura Benanti was playing the character. Durance has been used for emotionless AI exposition dumps and quick flashbacks. The one she did do anything of substance, she was playing J’onn Jonzz.
8. Incredible – Grant Gustin as Barry Allen
The Flash’s Barry Allen is far from a flawless character. Barry’s often been brash, idiotic and on occasion incredibly selfish. Barry has many flaws, which is what makes him interesting. However, Grant Gustin’s performance as the character doesn’t share the same number of mistakes.
Gustin is rather young and that has resulted in Barry being a little bit too immature. Still, if Barry’s immaturity must be traded for Gustin’s layered and balanced performance, it’s a worthy sacrifice. Gustin brings so much heart and charm to Barry. Even when he’s screwing up immeasurably, Barry can’t help but be lovable.
Gustin’s performance has led The Flash into some of its greatest moments. Like The Flash itself, Gustin is able to effortless juggle Barry’s playful and seriously emotional sides. Barry’s greatest power might be speed but The Flash’s just might be Grant Gustin.
7. Awful -Mehcad Brooks as James Olsen
Mehcad Brooks is a great actor and incredibly charming. He’s just a terrible excuse for a Jimmy, or James, Olsen. It’s fine that Supergirl wanted to envision a different version of Superman’s dorky best friend. However, making him as a six-foot-tall, muscled male model type wasn’t the best idea.
Jimmy Olsen is, or should be, an overload on personality and enthusiasm. Brooks’ James is so insufferably cool that it’s almost bland. There’s been shimmers of a deeper character, but they’ve been buried under effortless pretty boy charm.
It’s not Mehcad Brooks’ fault, by any measure. He should simply be playing a different character, because as Jimmy he’s just distracting. Supergirl feels obligated to have some elements of the classic Jimmy Olsen but then proceeds to do everything to separate themselves from that character.
6. Incredible – Jesse L. Martin as Joe West
There might be some TV dads who are better than Jesse L. Martin’s Joe West, but there aren’t very many. The Flash’s casting of Joe is, by far, one of the best decisions in the Arrowverse. Jesse L. Martin not only brought a sense of prestige to The Flash but he’s an excellently charming actor in his own right.
Martin has fantastic chemistry with everyone in The Flash cast. It’s in his scenes with his children, adopted or biological, that show off his true strength. Joe West brings such a warmth and sense of love to the series.
Joe could’ve been utterly disposal. It would’ve been easy to make a vehicle to deliver Iris and Wally West to Team Flash. Yet Joe, with Jesse L. Martin behind him, is essential. He’s one of the most beloved characters in the entire Arrowverse and every fan wants him as a father.
5. Awful – Falk Hentschel as Hawkman
A lot of problems with Hawkman in the Arrowverse are not Falk Hentschel’s fault, though they do manage to involve him. The core of the casting problem is that Legends of Tomorrow chose a German actor, who could not be whiter, to play a literal Egyptian prince.
Casper Crump and Ciara Renee weren’t great choices, but they at least looked convincingly in the period Egyptian garb. Hentschel was just ridiculous.
Besides that, though, Hentschel couldn’t do much of anything with his role. While he communicated a sense of power as Hawkman, he lacked a key component.
There was almost no chemistry between himself and Ciara Renee. This made any time that Carter expressed his undying love for Kendra just feel insane.
4. Incredible – Tom Cavanagh as All the Harrison Wellses
Tom Cavanagh has played a lot of characters on The Flash. Some of them– the first Harrison Wells or Eobard Thawne– have been completely fantastic, while others– mainly HR Wells– left a lot to be desired.
However, the skills of Cavanagh can’t be discounted. Neither can the brilliance of The Flash for using the actor to his full potential.
The amount of characters Cavanagh has played is a little ludicrous. Due to the sheer commitment that Cavanagh pulls into every version of Harrison Wells, that joke works.
It even manages to overcome its goofy trappings. Each Wells, even the most insane ones, feel like their own person. They just share the face (and talents) of one man.
3. Awful – Katie Cassidy as Laurel Lance
The original Laurel Lance is not without her fans. Katie Cassidy did the best she could with Earth-1’s Black Canary but she couldn’t do enough. Laurel wasn’t a bad character and she wasn’t poorly played– she was just miscast. It’s a fact that has been made abundantly clear with Cassidy’s second Arrowverse role, Earth-2’s Black Siren.
There’s a spark and energy in Cassidy playing Black Siren that was absent with the Black Canary. Cassidy never felt at home as the reasonable and responsible Laurel Lance. As her “evil” counterpart, Katie Cassidy has flourished.
Part of the reason why Black Siren works emotionally is because she looks and sounds like Black Canary. Still Black Siren is just far more fun to watch. Cassidy is clearly enjoying herself way more as the new Laurel and it shows. She’s a sad example of what the original was missing; danger.
2. Incredible – Caity Lotz as Sara Lance
Caity Lotz’ performance as Sara Lance is so good that it literally brought her character back from the dead. Sara was a character created specifically to die.
True, her first two “deaths” were fake-outs but the third was meant to be permanent. However, Lotz was so wonderful and popular in the role that fans demanded she was brought back, which happened and eventually ended up with her leading her own series.
Sara is a testament to what incredible casting can do for a character. Without Lotz skills or passion, Sara would’ve long gone. She was the other Lance sister.
1. Awful – Matt Nable as Ra’s al Ghul
Arrow’s Ra’s al Ghul is the worst marriage of miscasting and an underwhelming performance. Matt Nable’s version of Ra’s al Ghul had some highlights. The cliffside sword fight with Oliver in “The Climb” is the best of them. Unfortunately, any high points are overcome by the weaker moments.
Ra’s al Ghul should be a genius mastermind who hails from eastern Asian. Nable’s character was a bored white guy who ended up becoming a dummy with a werid obsession. Rather than feel in any wise or in control, Arrow’s Ra’s was just interested in Oliver. Ra’s did nothing but scowl and praise Oliver’s skills.
There was a lot of build-up to the character and Nable couldn’t have seemed less interested. Outside of his debut episode, Ra’s just went through the motions, until he literally gave up (on the end of Oliver’s sword).
What casting decisions have you loved and hated from the Arrowverse? Do you agree with this list? Sound off in the comments!
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