Being a superhero can’t be easy. For every beneficial perk, there’s a daunting consequence twice as divisive on deck, whether it be self-torment or demands from a fellow masked freak. Loved ones in danger, death-defying stunts on the daily, and of course, custom spandex that looks pristine on the evening news. As a fictional practice, it’s heavily unadvised to pursue. As an actor, bringing such intricate elements into the fold can prove equally as daunting. It takes a special kind of persona to convey sincerity while breathing through a silly mask (or makeup), but those that pull it off have reaped the benefits of some of modern cinema’s most influential movies.
The most amazing of these feats, however, is when a role proves so engaging to the audience that they will allow not one, but several performers to get in on the fun. Some to higher degrees of success than others, but still an indicator of what good acting can do in the right role. This practice also extends to super-villains, who if not for their scheming charisma, would have most heroes fighting measly bank robbers and questioning their very existence. Suffice to say, it’s better for everyone that both exist, and in these particular cases, with a few different faces to boot.
Here are Screen Rant’s 15 Iconic Comic Book Characters Played By Multiple Actors.
15. Human Torch
Portrayed by: Jay Underwood, Chris Evans, Michael B. Jordan
To employ a painfully cheesy-yet-accurate description, Johnny Storm is a hothead. Young, cocky, and thoroughly in awe of his newfound powers, the youngest Fantastic Four member is often the only one basking in the limelight. This was something Chris Evans played to perfection in the 2005 version of Fantastic Four, which had the future Captain America strutting his stuff opposite an otherwise talent-sucking trio (condolences to Michael Chiklis; he’ll always be Vic Mackey). Mixing just the right amount of jerk and genuine good guy, Evans walked away with the picture and 2007 sequel Rise of the Silver Surfer.
The arrival of a reboot in 2015 saw some changes to the character, most notably with regards to appearance. Choosing to cast a black actor as everyone’s favorite fire-wielder, director Josh Trank opted for Michael B. Jordan, who had previously stood out in the director’s indie debut Chronicle (2012). Fant4stic Four bombed beyond belief, but Jordan proved his star power was here to stay, and has since followed his fellow Human Torch over to Marvel for a role in 2018’s Black Panther.
14. The Punisher
Portrayed by: Dolph Lundgren, Thomas Jane, Ray Stevenson, Jon Bernthal
Granted, The Punisher was a less than stellar success in 2004, but no one could accuse star Thomas Jane of pulling any punches. As vigilante Frank Castle, the Golden Globe nominee goes full-on Charles Bronson, snapping, shooting, and stabbing his way through a mob of hostile goons and a smarmy John Travolta. Grimness is Jane’s middle name for much of the story, but such overbearing dread proved key in the film’s failure; joining the muddled 1989 original starring Dolph Lundgren. In an era of X-Men and Spider-Man, it wasn’t exactly what audiences had in mind.
In fact, it would take a full 12 years before Frank Castle caught on in the public eye. Grabbing the second season of Daredevil by the throat, actor Jon Bernthal instantly became the definitive Punisher, chewing up scenery while doing likewise to Daredevil and a slew of Hell’s Kitchen sleazebags. Angry to the point of blind rage, his Castle is a terrifying study in moral compasses gone askew, and the former boxer’s bulldog demeanor only drives this damnation home. Netflix has since ordered a spinoff series for the fan favorite, proving that good things can fact happen to questionable people.
13. Professor X
Portrayed by: Patrick Stewart, James McAvoy
At a glance, Professor Charles Xavier is a fairly straightforward role: teacher, advisor, and basic mentor to the X-Men clan. High risk, little reward, and a milquetoast demeanor to mask it all. But as a man who embodies the saying “mind over matter,” Xavier has actually come to signify one of the franchise’s most textured character arcs, due in no small part to the performance of Patrick Stewart. Live action casting rarely works out this well, for the Star Trek icon becomes the Professor onscreen, right down to his mellifluous voice and intricate inner workings. Through thick-and-thin, plot holes and death, Xavier remained a series anchor.
As a result, the idea of recasting the role in 2011 was strenuous to say the least. X-Men: First Class sought to capture the vivacious young man prior to baldness and paralysis, fortunately finding such a vessel in the form of Scottish actor James McAvoy. Bearing enough of a resemblance to make a side-by-side (or face-to-face) comparison stick, the new Xavier was a worthy successor, with McAvoy’s glassy eyes constantly hinting at the man he would eventually become. Cerebral scrambling never seem so refined.
Portrayed by: Billy Dee Williams, Tommy Lee Jones, Aaron Eckhart, Nicholas D’Agosto
Technically speaking, the first Harvey Dent sighting onscreen was through the guise of Billy Dee Williams. Introduced in Tim Burton’s original Batman (1989), the dapper D.A. never fully crossed over to villainy, for a planned twist in Batman Returns (1992) never made it back the planning stage. Aficionados of the scarred politician would instead have to wait until Batman Forever in 1995, where Tommy Lee Jones proceeded to cackle his way through a glorified hissy fit. While the notion of Jones taking on the demanding Dent character seemed a brilliant move on paper, the film’s cartoony code kept the Oscar winner from approaching any sort of emotional truth. Underwhelming, but good fun, nonetheless.
Dent would eventually receive his just due in 2008, when director Christopher Nolan awarded him a “White Knight” slot in the modern masterpiece The Dark Knight. Played with career-defining vigor by Aaron Eckhart, the one-time idealist is the film’s ethical base gone astray; and the results are disturbingly memorable. Though overshadowed by The Joker, much in the way that Jones was swept off stage by Jim Carrey’s Riddler, Eckhart finds a sympathy that lingers long after his final coin toss.
Portrayed by: Evan Peters, Aaron Taylor-Johnson
Quicksilver is an odd case based simply on the fact that he appeared in two extended universes simultaneously. First up was a scene-stealing showcase in X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), where actor Evan Peters goofs his way through an ingenious set piece of super speed and witty humor. Fans knew they were getting something special, and the praised appearance led to an even larger role in 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse. Peters, most known for indie fare prior to his star-making turn, finds a wounded immaturity behind the jokes that serves his character well, and keeps him from being relegated to comic relief status. One can only assume (and hope) the character will speed by in 20th Century Fox’s next X-Men installment.
Meanwhile, over in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, actor Aaron Taylor-Johnson donned the white hairdo to run circles around the likes of Captain America and Iron Man. Introduced in conjunction with sister Scarlet Witch, the two genetically enhanced humans (no mutants for the MCU) went on to supply some of the most exciting moments of 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron. Johnson’s less flashy take on the character was well received, though with limited screen time and a wrapped-up outcome, he definitely finishes second in the Quicksilver race.
Portrayed by: Rex Smith, Ben Affleck, Charlie Cox
Ben Affleck can be a very good actor. With performances in Good Will Hunting (1998), Hollywoodland (2006), Gone Girl (2014), and even the divisive Batman v Superman (2016), the Boston native has proven his worth when it comes to detached and self-destructive outsiders. Unfortunately, this knack for antihero favoritism didn’t always work out, and 2003’s infamous Daredevil is still the ideal example. Called upon to play the dashing Matt Murdock, Affleck’s internal intensity is turned down drastically here, and it’s with a heavy heart than Daredevil fans proceed to watch him blindly walk into this underwhelming adaptation. The tepid response stuck with the Academy Award winner, who seemingly experienced flashbacks of disappointment when Dawn of Justice opened to similar critical bashing.
Taking such context into account, calling Charlie Cox the better Murdock is pretty much a given. Though far less famous than his big screen counterpart, the British actor broke out on Netflix’s Daredevil series, excelling with a charmed approach to otherwise bleak content. Succeeding where Affleck fell short, Cox maintains a warmth to Murdock that makes him truly entertaining – especially after taking several beatings from #14 on this list, Frank Castle. And given the crossover plans for The Defenders in 2017, it looks as though Cox will have many more years to don the dark red suit.
9. General Zod
Portrayed by: Terence Stamp, Callum Blue, Michael Shannon
Banished from Krypton briefly before it’s destruction, General Zod arrives on planet Earth with only one intention: world domination. It’s as simple as super-villain plans can come, complete with henchman and a good old fashioned breach of The Oval Office. In the wrong hands, the role could’ve led to insufferable blandness, but professional cad Terence Stamp instead avoids any such concerns in the 1980 classic Superman II. Under the helm of director Richard Donner (and later Richard Lester), Stamp leaves his mark as Superman’s most dangerous foe, right down to the final bait-and-switch moments.
Second only behind Lex Luthor in Superman lore, the character’s demented doggedness was slightly altered when it came time to reboot the series in 2013. Under the helm of director Zack Snyder, Zod became a man bred for survival, consequently forced to proceed under any circumstances imaginable. The twist proved intriguing in a film otherwise loaded with flaws, and actor Michael Shannon ferociously connects with the role; providing a tragic soul in a war-torn exterior. An excellence one-two punch of performing – perhaps we should all just bow before Zod and call it a day.
Portrayed by: Julie Newmar, Eartha Kitt, Lee Meriwether, Michelle Pfieffer, Halle Berry, Anne Hathaway, Camren Bicondova
The impeccable cat’s meow, Selina Kyle has had quite the turbulent movie history. Originally portrayed by Lee Meriwether in 1966, the role found racy fame when Michelle Pfeiffer purred her way into Batman Returns (1992), weaving her sadistic seduction with attitude to spare. No doubt a contributor to the critique of Tim Burton’s adult-oriented sequel, the actress personified all that was frightening about the character, right down to her undead origins. Burton originally intended to helm a solo film with Pfeiffer in 1993, though the bottom fell out when he was taken out of the franchise director’s chair and stripped of the character rights.
Tragically, this left the door wide open for the monstrosity that was 2004’s Catwoman. Starring Halle Berry, an actual Oscar winner, the film tanked nearly as fast as the critical backlash, leaving fans feeling angered, berated, and all together unsure of any future iterations. Once again, it was Christopher Nolan who came in and restored quality, casting Anne Hathaway and focusing upon the character’s thievery skills in The Dark Knight Rises (2012). Heavily praised, this Oscar winning actress proved that Catwoman still has several onscreen lives to use up.
7. Lex Luthor
Portrayed by: Lyle Talbot, Gene Hackman, John Shea, Michael Rosenbaum, Kevin Spacey, Jessie Eisenberg
Lex Luthor is vital to the Superman dichotomy. Like Batman and The Joker, both men are respective sides of the same coin, and the head-bumping that occurs has always proven worthy of Metropolis destruction and Kryptonite deception. Luthor first reared his bald head in Atom Man vs. Superman (1950), but the persona didn’t fully formalize until the 1978 reboot, where Gene Hackman made for a delightful counterpart to Christopher Reeve’s blue boy scout. Scheming, snarky, and all but redefining the word ‘smug,’ the legendary Hackman set a bar that would subsequently be filled by the likes of Kevin Spacey, Michael Rosenbaum, and Jesse Eisenberg.
This particular trio of performers would all add unique flavors to the role, from Spacey’s megalomaniacal bend in Superman Returns (2006) to Eisenberg’s skittish revamping in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016). Admirable in their own right, particularly Spacey’s turn, but the muddled final products made for acting that ultimately fell on uninterested eyes. In this regard, Rosenbaum’s extended arc on NBC’s Smallville (2001-11) may still rank as the lone successor to Hackman’s throne, fleshing out a young man discontent with anything less than world domination. That is, after all, the only true calling of a self-proclaimed “criminal mastermind.”
Portrayed by: Nicholas Hammond, Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield, Tom Holland
Granted, Nicholas Hammond starred in the 70s TV show (including a few cable movies), but for all intents and purposes, Tobey Maguire was the man who jumpstarted Spidey’s cinematic career. Making a splash with the 2002 megahit Spider-Man, Maguire won the world over as Peter Parker, nerd extraordinaire who also happened to have extraordinary powers. Though 27 years old at the time, the California actor thoroughly sold his teenage timestamp, and the resulting franchise was filled with magical moments (goth Peter not being one of them). The dud that was Spider-Man 3 (2007) ended Maguire’s run, however, and subsequently passed the reins off to Andrew Garfield for 2012’s reboot The Amazing Spider-Man.
Adhering closer to the source material than Maguire’s trilogy, Garfield fit the bill well, with quick wit and youthful exuberance carving out his own niche in the Spidey legacy. Then, just like that, a poorly received sequel in 2014 sunk the Spider-Man ship a second time, leaving the future uncertain – until a deal between Sony and Marvel Studios allowed the hero to join the MCU. Now played by newcomer Tom Holland, this newest iteration has already become the big screen favorite, with Maguire, Garfield, and Stan Lee praising him as the finest Spider-Man yet. Who’s going to argue with those guys?
Portrayed by: Kirk Alyn, George Reeves, Christopher Reeve, Dean Cain, Tom Welling, Brandon Routh, Henry Cavill, etc.
George Reeves may have been a limited actor, but Superman was where he truly shined. Debuting the character through Superman and the Mole Men in 1951, Reeves hit upon a common decency that spoke volumes, right down to his chiseled jawline and role model demeanor. Though his life was ultimately cut short by mysterious circumstances, the actor’s indelible work on the Adventures of Superman (1951-58) show sustains his legacy as the Kryptonion benchmark. Ironically, the only actor who did Reeves better turned out to be his successor and near namesake, Christopher Reeve.
Selected from dozens of potential actors in 1978, the humble Reeve went on to become the greatest Superman of all time, fully basking in the goodwill glow while sporting some understated acting chops to boot. His honest, immensely likable presence onscreen helped establish Superman and it’s 1980 sequel as two of the best superhero films ever made. By comparison, the recent string of Superman actors haven’t been very strong. Brandon Routh brought a boorish lack of substance to the role in Superman Returns (2006), while Henry Cavill continues to bring an unlikable air of entitlement in the DCEU. Hopefully Tyler Hoechlin’s upcoming turn in Supergirl sparks something enjoyable, otherwise it’s back to rewatching the originals.
Portrayed by: Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno, Eric Bana, Edward Norton, Mark Ruffalo
Another case of a character finding fame on the small screen, The Incredible Hulk debuted with the dual performance of Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno in 1978. Spanning five seasons and subsequent TV movies, the show was a commercial success, offering an intimate look at one of Marvel’s most abrasive heroes. Ferrigno, a massive bodybuilder, dominated as the jolly green giant (mullet and all) each week, but it was Bixby’s portrayal of Banner that truly struck a chord, combining Dr. Frankenstein and his creation into a single haunting persona. Subsequent takes on the character would pursue this emotional blend, though the efforts of Eric Bana in Hulk (2003) and Edward Norton in The Incredible Hulk (2008) left much to be desired.
Though critically revered in their own right, both actors attempted to convey boredom as angst, and the diminished financial returns of their films solidified as much. By the time The Avengers assembled in 2012, the studio had scrapped Norton outright and started from scratch, opting to go with Academy Award nominee Mark Ruffalo instead. Less depressed and prone to awkward fun, the actor’s unorthodox approach proved a hit, and reinvented The Hulk as a fan favorite for newer audiences. Except Loki. He’s probably still bitter about the whole ‘puny god’ thing.
Portrayed by: Lewis Wilson, Adam West, Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney, Christian Bale, Ben Affleck
Dating back to the wham-pow days of Adam West in the 60s, Gotham’s darkest son has become one of pop culture’s seminal superheroes. A caped rarity in that abnormal abilities are replaced with intellect, Bruce Wayne offers a smorgasbord of acting range; from drunken playboy and hardened hero to emotionally stunted orphan. With such traits in mind, the casting of comedy actor Michael Keaton in Batman (1989) made for one hell of a backlash. Racking up close to 50,000 fan letters that requested he be taken off the project, the Academy Award nominee persevered, and delivered what many still believe to be a classic interpretation.
Keaton’s departed the series in 1992, however, leaving the floodgates open for budding superstars Val Kilmer and George Clooney to step in. Sadly, the films that resulted (Batman Forever, Batman & Robin) proved anything but super. Having gained notoriety both before and after these poor displays, the respected actors fell short of their predecessor by a long shot. As a result, the Batman legacy wouldn’t return to greatness until 2005, when Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins introduced a wickedly compelling Christian Bale in the title role. Focusing more upon the man than the mask, Bale’s textured performance raised the bar and gifted fans with a definitive Dark Knight portrayal. Ben Affleck received positive response for his turn in Dawn of Justice (2016), but it’s undeniable that he’s got some big batshoes to fill in his own solo film.
Portrayed by: Michael Fassbender, Ian McKellen
Marvel’s ultimate anti-villain, Magneto is a man who often finds himself in moral disarray. Chronologically introduced in X-Men: First Class (2011), the man born Erik Lehnsherr always had a mean streak to him, even when attempting to play it straight for the good of man (or mutant) kind. In doing so, actor Michael Fassbender creates a tragic character study, caught between violent urges and unshakeable sympathy for his fellow ‘freaks.’ Operating under the influence of Ian McKellen’s original performances, Fassbender does his prequel duty proud, and provides one of the few elements that pleasantly align in the X-Men universe.
As for Sir Ian, his tenure as the metal-wielding mutant is simply spot-on. Much like co-star and close friend Patrick Stewart, the actor’s theatrical flair makes for a performance as intimidating as it is soulful. Rarely without a radical solution, McKellen makes his older Magneto far more cynical, yet still unsure of where to stand when the dust settles on truly heinous evil. Stone-faced and stern, both he and Fassbender provide a translation of the comic book character that will impress for years to come.
1. The Joker
Portrayed by: Cesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger, Jared Leto (upcoming)
Performers who play The Joker simply can’t seem to miss. Originated by Cesar Romero in the 60s, Gotham’s Clown Prince hit the big time in 1989, when the inspired casting of Jack Nicholson gained a worldwide seal of approval. The Oscar winner didn’t disappoint, either, as his rubber-faced grin and sadistically bouncy flavor stole the show outright, and served to solidify the character as pop culture royalty. Perfectly opposing Keaton’s subdued Batman, Nicholson runs wild, and scenes like the art gallery invasion or an all new origin story were gambles that paid off huge. Pulling primarily from The Joker’s zanier side, Nicholson’s gregarious take still holds water with just about every super-villain there is.
Heath Ledger, on the other hand, found a bit more resistance when he was cast in 2008’s The Dark Knight. A well respected presence, the quiet Australian simply didn’t seem the type who could topple Christian Bale’s Batman – until, of course, the film was released. Instantly canceling any concerns whatsoever, Ledger’s Joker was a jaw-dropping creation, a mad dog who terrified as much as he captivated. Director Christopher Nolan teased a career defining performance out of the actor, one that would go on to earn him his first and only Academy Award (posthumously). Perhaps not the first, but undoubtedly the best.
Fellow Supporting Actor winner Jared Leto is set to play the giggling gunsel in this year’s Suicide Squad, ensuring that Joker’s cinematic history remains one without equal. Who wouldn’t crack a smile with actors like these?
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