Back in 2011, Captain America made his MCU debut with The First Avenger. The film harkened back to superhero stories from decades past, paying homage to the character’s roots by finding him up against HYDRA during WWII. At that point, Steve Rogers was easily the most traditional hero in the franchise, motivated by nothing but compassion for mankind and love for his country. While this could have gotten old fast, Cap has enjoyed one of the more interesting arcs since Steve found himself living in the present.
Out of the three MCU heroes who have enjoyed trilogies, Captain America’s journey has become the most intertwined with the franchise’s overarching story. The character’s third outing is essentially an Avengers movie, which finds the superhero team fracturing due to issues that began all the way back in The First Avenger.
Thanks to Chris Evans' anchored performance, Steve's evolution over the last seven years has been one of the most captivating to watch. Of course, Evans hasn't pulled it off alone, as the Captain America movies have sported some of the most impressive casts in the franchise. That's not to say that every actor has slid into their roles as comfortably as Evans. Often, this isn't the fault of the actor at all, but rather a misstep on the part of the filmmakers. With so many characters in the mix, a few are bound to get lost in the shuffle, which inevitably results in an imperfect marriage between actor and character.
Let's take a closer look at 10 Casting Decisions That Hurt Captain America Movies (And 10 That Saved Them).
20 Hurt: Tommy Lee Jones as Colonel Chester Phillips
It’s not hard to see why Tommy Lee Jones was cast in the role of the gruff Colonel Chester Phillips. The veteran actor has a long career of playing no-nonsense authority figures in movies like Men in Black and No Country for Old Men-- but where these characters are nuanced, Colonel Phillips is exceedingly one-dimensional.
Instead of giving Jones a character that he could really sink his teeth into, the actor is relegated to barking orders or spouting off exposition.
It’s not that Jones is wrong for the part at all, but rather that Colonel Phillips was in desperate need of a backstory or an emotional arc. If the filmmakers had no intention of giving him one, they shouldn’t have wasted Jones’ talents on such a stereotypical role.
19 Saved: Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America
Chris Evans seemed to have no problems making audiences forget about his performance as the Human Torch in the lackluster Fantastic Four movies so we could buy into him as Captain America.
While characters like Tony Stark and Thor are a bit easier to make entertaining with their over-the-top personalities, Evans arguably had a harder time making Rogers an interesting character. After all, he has no swagger, he’s not very funny, and he’s certainly not a ladies' man. What he does have is a whole lot of heart and love for mankind — which are attributes that could have easily come across as forced and unauthentic in lesser hands. Even more fascinating is how Evans has evolved with the character over time, transforming from a gung-ho soldier to a disenfranchised expatriate — without ever losing his compassion along the way.
18 Hurt: Natalie Dormer as Pvt. Lorraine
Ever go back and watch a movie only to notice that one of the supporting cast members has gone on to become a giant star?
It can be a fun little Easter egg to stumble upon, but it will inevitably pull you out of the movie.
Such is the case with Natalie Dormer’s role in The First Avenger, where she plays an Army private who is more than a little smitten with Steve Rogers. It also doesn’t help that once again Dormer plays a seductress — which is bound to remind viewers of her star-turning performance as Margaery Tyrell on Game of Thrones. Unfortunately, Dormer isn’t given very much to do with Lorraine. In retrospect, the role only serves to distract.
17 Saved: Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter
Though she may have been Steve Rogers’ love interest in The First Avenger, Peggy Carter is very much a hero in her own right — which is all the more impressive considering the time period.
Hayley Atwell perfectly looks and plays the part of the British secret agent. She is resilient, sarcastic, physically capable, and — most importantly — believable. Peggy was also one of the first women in the franchise to be portrayed as more than just a damsel in distress. Atwell’s popularity in the part even led to her own spin-off series as well as brief appearances in subsequent MCU movies. Unfortunately, Agent Carter was canceled after two seasons due to low ratings, despite the fact that Atwell and the show continued to earn praise.
16 Hurt: Martin Freeman as Everett Ross
Martin Freeman has certainly come a long way since playing Tim on the UK version of The Office. After playing the lead in a number of sci-fi and fantasy films — including The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and The Hobbit trilogy — fans were excited that Freeman would be joining the MCU.
Playing CIA agent Everett Ross was a nice change of pace for the English actor, who is often cast as the everyman who's usually out of his element. It seems as though Freeman may have taken the performance a little bit too seriously, as Ross ends up coming off as more than a little dry and uninteresting.
Freeman’s American accentfeels a bit forced throughout Civil War.
That being said, the character enjoyed a much more interesting arc in this year’s Black Panther.
15 Saved: Hugo Weaving as Johann Schmidt/Red Skull
When it comes to ranking the MCU’s villains, Red Skull has been placed anywhere from the best to the worst of the franchise. While some felt that his purely evil persona was the perfect antithesis of Captain America, others found the HYDRA mastermind to be a little too one-sided. One of the biggest complaints is that we didn’t get enough of the character. This could actually be taken as a compliment, as Hugo Weaving’s performance left audiences wanting more. Isn’t that what any great performance should do?
After playing Agent Smith in The Matrix trilogy, Weaving settled comfortably into the role of Johann Schmidt. The actor may not have enjoyed the prosthetics that went into playing Red Skull, but he still managed to make unwavering evil a lot more captivating than it usually is.
14 Hurt: Emily VanCamp as Sharon Carter
Emily VanCamp is a talented actress who has popped up in a number of popular shows, including Brothers & Sisters and Revenge. In the MCU, VanCamp made her debut in The Winter Soldier, where she plays an agent who is later revealed to be Sharon Carter, the great-niece of Steve’s former love. Why isn’t VanCamp right for the part?
Plain and simple, the accomplished actress has been given such an insignificant role that there isn’t much she can do with it.
In Winter Soldier, Carter appears on screen for less than three minutes. In Civil War, only five. Is eight minutes really enough time to establish a complex character worth caring about? Especially one who is developing a relationship with the protagonist? Depending upon the future of Sharon Carter, this might be another example of the MCU wasting talent.
13 Saved: Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spider-Man
For many going into Civil War, the success of the film came down to Tom Holland's performance as Peter Parker. It didn’t take long for Holland to win audiences over, with many calling him the best big-screen incarnation of the character before Homecoming ever hit theaters.
While Civil War was easily the heaviest MCU movie at the time, the scenes between Tony and Peter provide some much-needed levity to the two and a half hour film. For once, Peter actually looked and acted like a real teenager-- one who just so happens to have powers worthy enough of any Avenger. Now it's hard to imagine anyone but Holland in the role, as he's continued to excel in everything from action sequences to voice work.
12 Hurt: Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce
Before he ever appeared in the MCU, Robert Redford spent decades playing the most likable character on screen in movies like The Natural and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. That’s not to say that Redford can’t play menacing, as he does a convincing job as Alexander Pierce, a leading member of S.H.I.E.L.D. who is secretly working for HYDRA.
The problem here is that you never once doubt that Pierce will be revealed to be the story’s villain.
The MCU may have previously pulled this off in Iron Man when the affable Jeff Bridges was cast as Iron Monger, but by the time The Winter Soldier rolled around, audiences could see this misdirect coming a mile away. Therefore, when Pierce makes his true allegiance known, it’s not in the least bit surprising.
11 Saved: Stanley Tucci as Dr. Abraham Erskine
Every hero needs that one individual who gives them that final push to go from ordinary to extraordinary. For Captain America, that person happened to be Dr. Abraham Erskine. While plenty of actors enjoy a fruitful career playing the same archetype over and over again, Stanley Tucci has the distinct ability to disappear into his characters. He’s popped up in everything from Spotlight and The Hunger Games series to The Devil Wears Prada — all playing wildly different individuals.
In The First Avenger, he plays the scientist who’s perfected the Super Soldier Serum. Dr. Erskine is the first one to see potential in Steve Rogers, choosing him for his compassion and bravery over any physical attribute. Tucci's performance, as the kind-hearted doctor who encourages Steve to never change, perfectly sets the stage for the story that follows.
10 Hurt: Garry Shandling as Stern
Best known for being a stand-up and a comedic actor, Garry Shandling first appeared in the MCU in Iron Man 2, where he played a government official who is at odds with Tony Stark. Stern even goes so far as to back Justin Hammer as Stark’s replacement, likely after being bribed by the rival businessman.
While it’s not hard to buy Shandling as a smug politician, The Winter Soldier took this a step further and made Stern a member of HYDRA.
From everything we’ve seen of the character up until this point, Stern definitely doesn’t seem like he's an extremist. And if he is, then Shandling definitely wasn't the most believable actor for the part.
9 Saved: Daniel Bruhl as Zemo
Zemo is another MCU villain who seems to divide fans. While he might be a toned-down version of the character from the comics, that doesn’t make Zemo any less of a formidable force when it comes to taking on the Avengers. In fact, Zemo is one of the few MCU villains to succeed prior to Thanos. It’s even more impressive because Zemo is nothing more than an average man, motivated by the tragic loss of his family during the Battle of Sokovia.
Daniel Bruhl plays the character as cool and calculated, but beneath the surface, Zemo is clearly wrought with grief. He becomes obsessed with taking down the Avengers because it's much easier than dealing with his loss, and this nuanced performance by Bruhl turns Zemo into somewhat of a sympathetic villain.
8 Hurt: Toby Jones as Dr. Arnim Zola
There’s nothing inherently wrong as Toby Jones’ casting as Dr. Arnim Zola in Captain America: The First Avenger. The talented character actor played a fitting henchman and the voice of reason to the megalomaniacal Johann Schmidt. Dr. Zola may have been a member of HYDRA, but in reality, he was a weakling who cracked under the pressure of capture.
The problem with Jones' casting came in The Winter Soldier, when the filmmakers decided to make Zola the mastermind behind HYDRA’s infiltration of S.H.I.E.L.D.
It’s hard to imagine the character making such a transformation between the two films, going from an anxious follower to an evil mastermind. Either they should have cast someone a little more imposing in the part, or they should have had Jones play the character with a little more menace in The First Avenger.
7 Saved: Marisa Tomei as May Parker
After two Spider-Man franchises, we’ve had our fill of Aunt Mays who were sad and still dealing with the loss of their husband. That's what made Marisa Tomei’s incarnation of the character such a breath of fresh air.
In Captain America: Civil War, Aunt May is a much more balanced individual; she’s fun-loving and full of life while still being a responsible guardian to Peter. She actually comes across as more of a big sister than a grandmotherly figure — which is how she was previously portrayed. The Academy Award-winning actress was no doubt up to the task, and fans were happy to see the tragic loss of Uncle Ben skipped over for both Peter and May’s MCU debut.
6 Hurt: Joe Russo as Dr. Fine
Joe Russo’s cameo as Dr. Fine in The Winter Soldier is another casting decision that comes across as much more distracting in hindsight. At the time the 2014 film was released, most audience members probably had no idea what directors Joe and Anthony Russo actually looked like.
In the past four years, the Russos have become two of the most prominent voices in the MCU, going on to direct Civil War and the Avengers doubleheader.
Now, their faces are all over the Internet and TV as they bask in the success of this year’s Infinity War — a well-deserved victory indeed. However, going back and watching Joe Russo pop up as the doctor who treats both Nick Fury and Black Widow can’t help but pull you out of the film.
5 Saved: Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier
Sebastian Stan has gotten to play one of the more interesting character arcs throughout his time in the MCU, transforming from the wholesome World War II soldier Bucky Barnes into the brain-washed assassin known as the Winter Soldier. It can’t be easy to play two personalities that are so diametrically opposed to one another, but Stan tip-toes the line perfectly.
Even more impressive has been the character's journey back from the dark side as Bucky tries to overcome his haunted past and remember who he once was. Thanks to Stan’s convincing performance, many fans have found themselves aligning themselves with Team Cap following the events of Civil War. Since then, Bucky (and Stan) have gotten to evolve even further, with the new hero adopting the moniker of White Wolf.
4 Hurt: William Hurt as Thaddeus Ross
When Mark Ruffalo took over the role of Bruce Banner, it seemed like the events of The Incredible Hulk would be largely ignored. Thaddeus 'Thunderbolt' Ross faded into obscurity, which seemed like it might have been for the best. Then nearly a decade later, Thaddeus made his unexpected return in Civil War, this time serving as the Secretary of State who is brought in to lecture the Avengers about how destructive they've become.
Wasn't Thaddeus the same guy who ordered his troops to open fire on a college campus to provoke the Hulk?
He hardly seems like the character to be giving a speech about safety. His return also reminded audiences about the absence of Thaddeus' daughter Betty, Bruce's forgotten love interest. Hurt is a fine actor, but his return shed light on a few inconsistencies.
3 Saved: Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson/Falcon
Captain America has never been the type of hero who does anything for the recognition. Instead, he wants to be a team player who relies on his allies as much as they rely on him. This is what made Sam Wilson such a welcome addition to the team in The Winter Soldier.
Much like Rogers, Wilson is a military man who knows that trust in one’s partners is of the utmost importance on the battlefield. Anthony Mackie plays the character with just the right amount of similarities and differences to Steve. He can be a little bit more light-hearted than Cap, but Sam also carries around a weight from his tours in the Middle East, which is perfectly demonstrated in Mackie's nuanced performance.
2 Hurt: Neal McDonough as Timothy "Dum Dum" Dugan
Timothy "Dum Dum" Dugan first popped up in Marvel comics back in the 1960s, where he was a leading member of the Howling Commandos and a close ally to Nick Fury throughout WWII. Inevitably, a few things ended up getting shuffled around to fit into the MCU, but many were still excited over the prospect of Dugan being brought to life on the big screen. The character was perfectly cast, as both Neal McDonough and Dugan hail from eastern Massachusetts.
The character design was spot-on, which is what made it so disappointing when McDonough is given so little to do with the character.
Dugan barely appears on screen at all, and when he does, Dugan comes across as more of a cartoon character rather than a real-life soldier, making the whole ordeal feel like a missed opportunity.
1 Saved: Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa/Black Panther
While plenty of fans went into Civil War excited to see Spider-Man, many were surprised at how much they left wanting to see more of Black Panther. After all, the comic book character wasn’t very well-known before the film. Yet Chadwick Boseman succeeded in winning people over as the vengeful heir of Wakanda.
Boseman clearly trained hard for the role, which made it easy to believe that this series newcomer was on the same playing field as many of the seasoned heroes. The actor also petitioned to have T’Challa don an African accent, as some of the filmmakers were toying with the idea of having the character sport a British or America accent instead — which could have been a catastrophic misstep.
Of course, one solo movie and over a billion dollars later, no one can deny that Boseman was the right choice.
Who's your favorite actor the Captain America movies? Let us know!