The days are counting down until the main course of the DC Extended Universe arrives, uniting the disparate heroes into the formidable strike team known as the Justice League. After rumors of an alien warlord familiar to every DC fan were sidelined by the reveal of the movies true villain, the fan debates and outrage over actors in the running to bring Darkseid to life were silenced. But as the rumors continue to swirl, and post-production on League is in full effect, the day is fast approaching that Zack Snyder will finally make his selection of the live action take on DC’s cosmic conqueror.
Even if Darkseid makes a small cameo in Justice League before his official villain debut in a later film, Snyder, WB and the actor in question may have an uphill battle. Not only are hulking alien warlords a blockbuster trope at this point, but Marvel has beaten them to the punch with an early reveal of Thanos the Mad Titan (even though, yes, Darkseid was created first). But with the right actor in the role, we’ll be able to kiss those comparisons – and maybe even doubts – goodbye.
The jury is still out on who will take on the title, but for now, we’re breaking down our top picks in our list of 20 Actors Who Could Play Darkseid in The DCEU.
20. Jeff Bridges
We shouldn’t have to justify our placement of Jeff Bridges on this list, considering we’ve had him in mind for a potential CG-boosted Darkseid for some time. It seems highly likely that Warner Bros. will be turning to an established, respected, and star-powered villain to not only challenge the superheroes on-screen, but carry the same level of experience and intimidation while on set. DC fans know that it’s the voice, the stare, and the general presence of Darkseid that actually makes superheroes tread lightly around him, just as often as it’s his Omega Beams or superstrength. And when it comes to a voice that will get heroes – and the audience – on the edge of their seats, Bridges sits at the top of any list of candidates.
Given his recent run of Oscar contender roles, a turn in the mocap suit for Justice League might seem a bit out of the blue. But Bridges took the opportunity to play a… less-than-Shakespearean villain (at least at times) supervillain in Iron Man, so he’s not above having some fun in the comic book world. His personality and humor may make him a star in Hollywood, but take one look at his filmography and you’ll notice his dark, brooding, and dramatic turns are some of his most memorable – including parts of Iron Man. And if Zack Snyder’s sets are as much fun as they seem, the addition of a character like Bridges seems downright inevitable.
19. Jason Isaacs
Jason Isaacs is no stranger to Warner Bros., or the world of DC Comics in particular, having already lent his vocal talents to animated incarnations of Lex Luthor in Justice League: Gods & Monsters… and Sinestro in Green Lantern: Emerald Knights… and Ra’s al Ghul in Batman: Under the Red Hood. That list shows that the minds at WB Animation realized the same thing we have: Isaacs has the skills to convey a villain with his voice alone… and is more than capable of tailoring that tool for the kind of sinister scheming and ego required. Adding an actual performance upon which to base a villain like Darkseid can only yield more impressive results.
It’s also worth pointing out that Isaacs has been used for villains who are both chilling and intelligent – the same qualities on display as ‘Lucius Malfoy’ in the Harry Potter series. Although Darkseid may be better known for his size and stature than his smarts, the DCEU version will likely pursue a villain who thinks as much as he threatens. Not only would a growling, ego-driven alien tyrant draw parallels between himself and Marvel’s Thanos, but with Steppenwolf starring as the attack first, think later type in the first Justice League. Ego may be unavoidable for any version of Darkseid, but if audiences are going to get a glimpse of the calculating conqueror behind the savagery of Steppenwolf, an actor of Isaacs’ caliber would send the message loud and clear.
18. Andre Braugher
Take a single step into any fan discussion of actors suited for the role of Lord of Apokolips, and you’ll run smack into Andre Braugher, if for no other reason than the gravity, timbre and unmistakable rumble in his voice. But if we’re being technical, the role may actually be Braugher’s already, having voiced the villain in Superman/Batman: Apocalypse. And, unsurprisingly, he brought everything any fan could really want to the part, having years of experience playing a subdued, intelligent, and when needed, menacing or threatening figure.
It wouldn’t surprise anyone to see Braugher actually claim the role, if the layers of digital makeup and hundreds of pounds of flesh and armor being used for Darkseid will be mainly fueled by a voice. Again, that hinges entirely on the vision of Darkseid that Zack Snyder and his writers have in mind. Braugher’s previous portrayal also focused more on a cold, menacing, and measured villain. So if the big bad is intended to go toe-to-toe with Batman in a battle of wits and risk, few may do it better.
17. Ed Harris
There aren’t many actors who can pull off the role of hero, villain, heroic villain, or villainous hero like Ed Harris. What’s more, actors who rise to that level of respect and reverence tend to steer towards award-winning dramas, not experimental, off-beat, or just plain fun filmmaking. Harris’ filmography runs the gamut from dramedy to chilling thriller and back again, equally convincing as a warm and charming fountain of humor as he is a deeply disturbed and uncompromising monster. In a word, his skills leave the potential wide open: while also anchored in a face and body capable of conveying multiple layers of emotion and morality.
Now, a role like Darkseid may not exactly demand that kind of moral ambiguity, since a desire to “take over the entire universe” is a hard sell as anything but tyranny run amok. That being said, Snyder’s DC villains have had a logic to their actions: Zod was fulfilling his genetic and social imperative, and Lex Luthor was determined to show Superman wasn’t perfect. If the idea is to give Darkseid a reason for assaulting Earth, or threatening life on a galactic scale… well, that’s the kind of stance that an actor like Ed Harris might actually be able to talk us into it.
16. Sam Neill
It has to be said that with a villain who can terrify on the comic book page, thanks to an artist’s efforts, there is always the risk that they’ll be more boring than bone-chilling when captured on film (look no farther than X-Men: Apocalypse for a live-action villain that couldn’t measure up). It’s a serious threat, but one avoided if the actor chosen for the role can manage to be intriguing, charismatic, likeable, and above all interesting without having to do or say much to accomplish it. It may sound like a paradoxical task, but actors like Sam Neill have been doing it for decades.
Starting with Neill’s best known role to most geek-focused audiences, Jurassic Park, it can’t be understated: he cemented his place in the minds of every young movie fan despite ‘Dr. Alan Grant’ being… well, a pretty ordinary, grumpy man. Even when playing villains in multiple UK productions, miniseries, and TV shows, Neill brings unmatched levels of depth based on the simple fact that audiences tend to like him. That alone can take a flat villain to the level of ‘captivating,’ letting the writing, the setting, and the larger hero-focused story flesh out the film without him needing to reinvent the idea of a blockbuster villain (since the superhero crowd will have had plenty by the time he appears).
15. Mark Strong
Is it wrong that we’re still trying to make it up to Mark Strong for the debacle that Green Lantern turned out to be? While Ryan Reynolds got out of the mess relatively unscathed – now even poking fun at the role of Hal Jordan in his mega-hit Deadpool – Strong hasn’t gotten his second kick at the can. Not that he actually needs it, either – his rendition of classic GL supervillain Sinestro was pitch-perfect, even introduced as a righteous, if somewhat ruthless, hero before his turn towards the dark. A turn that DC fans only saw a glimpse of before Strong, and his potential, were snatched away.
Sinestro and Darkseid aren’t interchangeable villains by any stretch of the imagination, but they share the idea that neither actually thinks of themselves as the villain. Both respect the overruling power of fear and domination, and each could make the same rationalizations (that total control, through whatever means, is the best path to peace). Strong’s skills have been on display for years, and would be more than ready to deliver a quiet, simmering, sinister Darkseid or a monologue-loving (and secretly kind of charming) villain, whichever direction WB chooses to head.
14. Michael C. Hall
His public face may have shown Michael C. Hall’s skill for humor and aloofness in Dexter, but when he got his prey in private, the true character came out. The kind who could commit horrors without actually feeling… a thing. Playing both sides of Dexter Morgan was hard enough, but doing it while making the audience love the darker side was testament to Hall’s real talent. He’s an actor’s actor – as proven in the unforgettable dance scene of Gamer, and his starring roles on the stage – and as fun as he may seem, the darker sides of his range are unsettling on a level most superhero movies never even approach.
Since he’s already offered his calmer, cleverer side in the animated DC Universe – playing the Man-Bat Batman in Justice League: Gods & Monsters, we would say it’s only right that he get to bring his terrifying talent to the screen. It’s a thinking Darkseid that we have in mind, but one just as much governed by his emotions… even if he refuses to accept it. Hall can shock audience members into their seats when he explodes from controlled to enraged, and if Snyder wants to take the emotion of his Justice League film to the same action heights of Batman V Superman, Hall will get their – fast. And most likely, with a smirk on his face.
13. Richard Armitage
Way back when it seemed that Zack Snyder might repeat the Man of Steel approach and cast a relative unknown (at least to North American audiences) in the part of an older, more experienced Batman, Richard Armitage made his way to the top of our list. Described by some as an English version of Hugh Jackman (in size, appearance, and skill on screen), his ability to play composed, analytical, and heroically determined characters seemed to make him a solid fit for the “world’s greatest detective” version of the Dark Knight. Many of those same qualities would extend to Darkseid, assuming that Snyder and the DCEU intend to create a lasting villain – in which case, depth, complexity, and above all a somewhat tragic villain are all prerequisites.
Audiences have already gotten a look at Armitage’s take on those emotions in Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy. Sure, it may have been hard to make Armitage out under all that hair and CG, but his turn as Thorin Oakenshield was a riddle to be solved from the moment he stepped into the story. So, proud and self-assured ruler? Check. But in the event that the villain is intended to be a bit more threatening, a bit more vicious… well, Armitage’s role as Hannibal‘s Francis Dolarhyde proves he’s up to the task.
12. Daniel Craig
Thanks to the online conversation and criticism surrounding films like those of the DCEU, the terms “moody,” “dark,” or “grim” have come to be used primarily as negative feedback, not the actual pursuit of a genre, actor, or director. Nowhere has this idea been better explored than through the most recent films in the James Bond series, starring Daniel Craig. What’s most astounding is that as the 007 legacy has perched atop shakier and shakier footing, Craig’s actual skills have never been tarnished or insulted: he’s a gifted actor in playing dark, tense, and emotionally tormented drama… many fans have just grown a bit tired of it in the guise of their favorite super-spy.
It’s no secret that Craig has grown less than committed to a future as Bond, having voiced an interest in stepping away from large-scale dramas, out of the limelight, and back towards the more independent, energetic, and experimental films he’s appeared in when not playing James Bond. You can’t get much more experimental than a comic book supervillain, but in this case, the tone, drama, and cast of the DCEU could be more appealing than most. Craig’s ability to convey pain, remorse, anger, and when needed, devastating charm have been on display for the past decade. Give him the chance to do the same without needing to carry a film, perform in action set-pieces, and be as experimental as he wants to be, and we’re certain he would do the Darkseid name proud.
11. Stephen McHattie
While it seems likely, given the Oscar-caliber actors that have recently been joining the DC Movie Universe, there’s no actual rule saying that the actor cast as Darkseid needs to be as recognizable as they are talented. And that fact opens the door to the collection of character actors that director Zack Snyder has turned to for past projects. And among that distinguished group, actor Stephen McHattie has to stand out. Having portrayed the retired Night Owl in Snyder’s Watchmen, McHattie was cemented in the legacy of the epic graphic novel. But that was merely a return to Snyder’s gang, after a far more substantial, and far more subdued performance as the Loyalist working in secret to support Queen Gorgo.
It may be a long shot, but there’s something to be said for the selection of an actor whose performance will stand apart from their fame or celebrity. Where the news of any major actor cast as a CG character eventually has audiences analyzing the famous face beneath the effects, it would make sense to select an actor whose characterization would be the main event. It may never happen, due to the realities of blockbuster marketing, but we can hope. After all, with DC’s biggest superheroes drawing the crowd, a compelling, accomplished, and infinitely reliable character actor like McHattie may be the choice that seems most attractive to Snyder.
10. Jason Clarke
From the moment he stepped into Zero Dark Thirty Jason Clarke has been on our radar in a big way. A long line of character roles followed, accentuating the Aussie actor’s versatility in comedy, drama, offbeat satire, period crime, hardcore action, and speculative science fiction. He’s impressed in nearly every single role, no matter how much was demanded of him, or how far his character was required to go to convince the audience that a story was worth following – nowhere more visible than Terminator: Genisys, a movie that was critically butchered, but in which Clarke nevertheless captivated when he was on screen.
While that was technically a ‘villain’ role, it revealed only the tip of the iceberg in terms of blockbuster villainy. Still, enough potential was seen to earn an even bigger spotlight, in our eyes. It’s Clarke’s ability to flip from warmth, trust, and charm to downright malice, madness, or crazed anger that has us hoping for a role in just about any substantial comic book film. So why not swing for the fences, if you’ve got the acting chops to pull it off? Honestly, take one look at Clarke’s face and tell us it wouldn’t seem right resting inside of Darkseid’s Apokoliptian headgear. We’ll wait.
9. Jackie Earle Haley
As yet another member of Zack Snyder’s stable of past collaborators, the time of leaping to assumptions about the kinds of roles Jackie Earle Haley could play came and went in an instant. His award-winning roles and jaw-dropping performances aside, his portrayal of ‘Rorschach’ in Snyder’s Watchmen alone shows that he’s capable of a faceless, emotionless menace few actors can hope to approach. With Rorschach, like Darkseid, he showed that it’s the message sent when the cameras are rolling that determines how ‘fearsome’ a character can be – not their size, stature, or… well, face (or lack thereof).
As we mentioned above, keeping Darkseid interesting is the key, since a plot for galactic domination is about as common as a blue beam of light shooting into the sky. Haley is downright guaranteed to check that box, based on every one of his roles to date. And having already unlocked the secret to one of Watchmen‘s most enigmatic characters alongside Zack Snyder, the opportunity to do it all over again – in the form of a towering galactic despot, no less – seems like a recipe for success. And if you’re going with the whole ‘Geoff Johns followed him on Twitter’ theory of rumor-milling… well, he’s got that in his favor too.
8. Tom Hardy
Sure, there may be an unwritten rule that actors in the Marvel universe can’t return in a new role, but that hasn’t been established for DC’s yet. And, if you want to get technical, Tom Hardy’s take on Bane was in a completely different fictional universe than the one now being built by Warner Bros.. Call us explicit fans of Hardy’s work (which we definitely are), but another chance for him to step into the role of a classic DC villain – without a mask or voice modulation to distract from his performance – seems downright owed. He was already on board to jump into the DCEU again as Colonel Rick Flag in Suicide Squad before another film forced him to drop out. So let a role as Darkseid be the silver lining.
To be clear, it isn’t Hardy’s size we’re interested in (since that will almost certainly be augmented with CG in the finished film… right?). And it isn’t a menacing, monologue-loving variant of Bane, either. No, we want the Tom Hardy that can carry an entire film on his back relying purely on his dramatic chops. His role as the titular star of Mad Max: Fury Road may have been more visible than his smaller projects, but his staggering dramatic chops are put to work all the same. Stand the heroes of the Justice League opposite, and let Hardy loose to get as arch, as stoic, or as restrained as possible, and we have little doubt the result would be something special.
7. Ray Stevenson
There are actors on our list whom we’re confident could live up to the expectations and reputation of Darkseid, and then there are those who we are certain would do it, if given the chance. Ray Stevenson is an easy choice for anyone familiar with his work, since his characters are often the exact kind of imposing, strong both literally and figuratively, and not the kind to use ten words when two will do. Whether you go all the way back to his days on HBO’s Rome, as Marvel’s second modern Punisher, or as the infamous Blackbeard on Starz’s Black Sails, it’s clear that when casting agents need to find a tall, dark, and handsome actor capable of carrying a narrative with more nuance than your usual towering thespian, he gets the call.
The reason why Stevenson could step into the role may sound a bit too obvious: the presence and power expected of a cunning, ruthless, and unstoppable conqueror – who rules from the throne, not the battlefield – have become his trademarks. But he’s also shown the kind of humor needed to tackle a role that could, depending on the direction taken, be set completely within the realm of a cosmic fantasy. In truth. Stevenson is the kind of actor who excels when much is asked of him. In his hands, then, a simple recreation of the comic book Darkseid wouldn’t disappoint. But in the hands of the right screenwriter, could build a horribly flawed case for absolute rule… and we wouldn’t say a word of criticism.
6. Denzel Washington
When the news broke that Zack Snyder would finally be choosing a version of Lex Luthor for his Man of Steel Superman, the fans responded with casting ideas calling on some of Hollywood’s biggest (or most type-cast) names. Bryan Cranston, Kevin Spacey, and Denzel Washington were all among them, based on – aside from online images of them with shaved heads – proven track records as intelligent, cold-blooded, unmerciful leaders who wouldn’t let a superpowered man slow down their plans for a single second. None of them got the part (and most weren’t ever contacted), but that description stuck in our memory.
By comparison, Lex Luthor’s inferiority in modern DC comics actually calls for a bit less stoic an actor – Darkseid, on the other hand, needs as much as an actor can give. At first, Denzel Washington’s inherent charisma, sense of humor, and a grin that can cue the same in an entire movie theater audience feels like a poor fit for Darkseid. But darker films like Man on Fire, Flight, The Equalizer, and Fences remind us that Washington can deliver whatever he’s asked to, or whatever the role most demands. He’d be in award-winning company in the DC Universe, and as much of a long shot as it may be to land as big a star, the vision of Denzel Washington going to an even darker, even more terrifying and powerful place than audiences have seen is too tempting to ignore.
5. Alan Tudyk
Instead of making a case for why Alan Tudyk should be considered, it should really be the challenge of finding a reason he wouldn’t be considered for a high-profile role demanding a performance anchored in vocals or mo-cap. Having earned himself a spot in Disney’s Hall of Fame by appearing in consecutive Disney releases Wreck-it Ralph, Frozen, Big Hero 6 and Zootopia, and the fan favorite role of Rogue One‘s ‘K-2SO’ (channeling his experience as I, Robot‘s ‘Sonny’) following, Tudyk is only on the rise in terms of performances behind a microphone, or hidden beneath layers of CG effects.
That isn’t to discount his talents anywhere else – far from it, in fact. As an actor best known for his comedic roles, and remembering that in the world of performance, comedy is the harder one, Tudyk’s talents in portraying darkness can’t be sold short. Lest we forget, an actor who can play an unfeeling, inhuman, but nevertheless endearing robot to such perfection is halfway to Darkseid already. Selecting a comedic actor would surprise and confuse plenty, but we’d be too ready to see the method behind the madness.
4. Liev Schreiber
Picture it in your mind’s eye: Justice League on IMAX screens, Darkseid’s throne room rendered in staggering detail, at once intimidating, grand, alien, and awe-inspiring. Upon the massive throne sits the hulking, grey-skinned, blank-staring, silent Lord of Apokolips. The character that actually comes out of that backdrop needs to be either big enough, frightening enough, or compelling enough to overcome the oppressiveness… or, on the other hand, be as inexplicable and elusive as possible. Take the latter route, and you’ll not only subvert the audience’s expectations of a loud, egomaniacal, mustache-twirling villain, but prime those same viewers for the terror and shock when said villain DOES boil over.
With that framework in mind, there are few who can answer the call as well as Liev Schreiber. Even before he was carrying a TV series barely uttering more than two words at a time on Ray Donovan, Schreiber was a name known by fans of a ‘less is more’ performance. Spotlight, too, was a showcase of the art of small choices making the character, not big ones, or even dialogue. When a villain has been copied, caricaturized, parodied and derived from as often as Darkseid, the challenge is – unfairly or not – placed on Snyder to do something new. A villain shaped by as restrained and detail-oriented an actor as Schreiber is one solution we wouldn’t doubt for a moment.
3. Jeffrey Wright
If fans are looking to actors who can convey intense intelligence, a flat, but enthralling voice and cadence, and with a track record and visibility to instantly bring more credibility to Justice League, then an actor like Jeffrey Wright belongs on that list. We won’t even take credit for our selection, since we can only assume that movie and TV enthusiasts across the online conversation have agreed already, especially given Wright’s work on HBO’s Westworld. The fact that his role required him to be all of the things Darkseid is expected to be is simply icing on the cake.
With a nearly unmatched gift for suggesting constant and inspired internal calculations, be they emotional or intellectual, Wright would make Darkseid a villain to not just fear, but one to dread. Darkseid may not be shown to possess the kind of reasoning or leveled way of thinking as Wright is capable of, but as we’ve said before, the bar for an Apokoliptian villain will be raised by Steppenwolf’s part in the first Justice League adventure. We’re hoping the resolution will come in Darkseid’s clear decision to wield him as a blunt instrument, and raise the stakes and level of play when he enters the game. And if we get our wish, WB, Snyder, and the DCEU as a whole would be immensely lucky to have an actor of Wright’s caliber.
2. Liam Cunningham
Sean Bean may be brought up in fan-casting conversations, and it’s not a bad suggestions (especially considering the fact that he was once rumored to play another god in Wonder Woman). But if we’re going to suggest a member of HBO’s Game of Thrones family, then this seems a perfect opportunity to show some love – and confidence – for Liam Cunningham, better known as Sir Davos Seaworth a.k.a. the Onion Knight. Known by many as one of their favorite characters from the moment he entered the world of cruel tyrants and crazed heirs to a single throne. If Snyder is looking to introduce a take on Darkseid that actually feels older, wiser, and perhaps even convincing in his belief that he’s got the universe all figured out, then an actor of Cunningham’s skillset could be invaluable.
It won’t be easy for casual Thrones fans to see the potential for a villain in Cunningham, especially having earned so much fan adoration by playing one of the most caring, just, and relatable characters in the series. But in drama, playing a character with that much charm and unquestionable nobility is harder than playing a villain greedy for control and domination of all peoples. So we know Cunningham would be able to do the job as convincingly as any of his co-stars. But if we saw him land the part, we, and so many Thrones fans the world over, would be thrilled to see a bit more of the spotlight focus squarely on one of the show’s most criminally underrated cast members.
1. Idris Elba
First of all: Yes, we are forced to nominate Idris Elba as a potential actor because, as every movie and TV enthusiast knows, there is no role Idris Elba could not play to perfection. But aside from that fact, he also possesses the gravitas, charm, and seething rage that even casual fans would expect to see in the ruler of a Hell-like planet in an alternate form of existence. If Snyder will continue to shape his antagonists with the notion that every villain is the hero of their own story, it would do well to select an actor with experience playing both. And quite convincingly, we might add.
While Elba may currently be playing a role as the Asgardian Heimdall in Marvel’s Thor series, his dislike for the green screens and wire work of superhero blockbusters has been stated quite candidly. So if his time in the Marvel Universe is going to be ending sooner rather than later (through whatever means), a shift to DC could be a wise move. It’s still a comic book blockbuster, sure – but it’s one that would demand a serious dramatic performance, and place him alongside an impressive cast of actors. Could he play the part? As with all parts, yes, he could. But a role as Darkseid might actually be one that few others could play as well.
NEXT: Ben Affleck Says Justice League Begins DCEU’s ‘Rebirth’
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