When you consider the amazing box office success and the credibility that has grown with the comic book genre in recent years, it’s no surprise to see some hugely respected names agree to appear in these movies, helping to adapt our favorite heroes and villains over the years with some surprisingly impressive results. With the award cabinet-filling collection of talent that has popped up in Marvel, DC and the like, what’s occasionally shocking and painfully disappointing is when these top-level names are underused for roles that could’ve provided so much for the particular films and franchises they’ve signed up for. For every great character brought to life, there’ve been others where the actors playing them have given it their all, and their efforts have been utterly wasted.
Either as a result of some poor creative choices, or flat-out bad films that threw any further franchise plans into the wind, there’s a handful of great names that didn’t get the attention they deserved. There are many characters that we’ll never see again, or until the studio decides to give them the reboot treatment. Below is a list of actors that definitely gave it everything they had, only to be met by either scathing critics, or even worse, massively upset fans.
Here are 15 Great Actors Who Were Wasted In Comic Book Movies.
15 Andrew Garfield – The Amazing Spider-Man 1 & 2 (2012, 2014)
Before Sony came to their spider-senses and gave partial control back to Marvel, the studio had one last effort at a Spider-Man series, choosing Andrew Garfield to crawl up the walls in not one, but two installments. His performance shone through consistently, giving that sharp, sarcastic Peter Parker wit both in, and out of the mask. The only problem was the mess of films he was forced to work with.
Director Marc Webb’s take made no effort to discreetly tread over ground that Sam Raimi had already dealt with and was rushed along to catch up with the Marvel world-building struggling to do so. Eventually, the Spidey that Garfield had lovingly worked on was scrapped, as was the world he’d helped build.
Garfield gave it his all and didn’t get nearly enough back as he deserved. Had Sony handed the keys back to the House of M sooner, we might have had a Spider-Man series that actually lived up the "Amazing" moniker it dared to include, and Garfield could’ve played the web-slinger in movies worthy of his talent.
14 Taylor Kitsch – X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2005)
Taylor Kitsch may have stolen audience’s hearts in Friday Night Lights, but he was dealt a losing hand when it came to attempts at the box-office, even in the roles he was perfect for. Take Logan’s first stab at a spin-off, X-Men: Origins, which saw our favorite metal-clawed mangler cross paths with various mutants, including the ragin’ Cajun, Gambit.
For his short time on screen, Kitsch pulls out the sort of card-throwing rogue that would’ve made for an interesting fit in the X-Men universe. Cool, collected, and smoother than a freshly cut deck, he wields enough presence to even stand toe-to-toe with X-Men’s poster boy. Of course, Gambit and Wolverine get very little facetime, considering he’s used mostly as Logan’s errand boy in the film’s final act. As it stands, Gambit will be back in the X-Men universe eventually, only this time played by Channing Tatum, but Kitsch will always stand as one of the few things Origins did right, in a film that went so wrong.
13 Ryan Reynolds – Green Lantern (2011)
We can all laugh about it now, but there was a time when Ryan Reynolds signing up to wear a green and animated suit had some potential. The same thing that made Reynolds a perfect Deadpool-- that hot-shot, big-mouthed, charismatic charm-- made him an ideal choice for Hal Jordan, aka Green Lantern. Shame then, that we barely got a flicker of hope to kick off a character who could’ve revived the DCEU long before Snyder and co. had a hand in it.
There are enough issues here to make fans burn with the rage of an army of Red Lanterns; if it’s not Hector Hammond being turned into Parallax and another gaseous space cloud, it’s spending a toilet breaks-worth of time on Oa meeting legendary Green Lanterns that don’t get the attention they deserve.
Credit goes to Reynolds for trying to keep the light burning, but with rewrites and production issues from the get-go, it’s no wonder the film was doomed. We can only pray that the next person to don the ring for Warner Bros. planned reboot doesn’t suffer the same fate.
12 Hugo Weaving – Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
One thing we’ve rarely had the pleasure of seeing when it comes to villains in either the DC or Marvel camps is the bad guys coming back for more. Besides Loki, most evil doers have had a one-and-done deal when they really shouldn’t have. One in particular was Hugo Weaving’s Red Skull in Captain America: The First Avenger.
As much of an arch-nemesis to Cap as The Joker is to Batman, the evil genius who fought Steve Rogers across time and space for years in the comics instead bows out at the end of his only appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Blown into the unknown thanks to the Cosmic Cube, there’s been very little mention of Johann Schmidt ever since and Steve has yet to face off against another true nemesis. The Red Skull had the chance to be the thorn in Steve’s side for years to come, but has now just been another throwaway bad guy as good triumphed over evil yet again. Yawn.
11 Mark Strong – Green Lantern (2011)
In many films, Mark Strong is a secret weapon – a supporting talent who can make a film go from average to awesome because that’s just how good he is. With that said, even with the assistance of Ryan Reynolds in Green Lantern, he didn’t stand a chance as the corrupted Korugian, Sinestro, and it cost fans dearly.
A massive missed opportunity in comic book movie history, it’s bad enough that Strong is underused in a role that was perfect for him, but what makes it even more disappointing is the open ending of Green Lantern, as he takes up the yellow ring and the element of fear he would inevitably cover the galaxy in. Should Warner Bros. struggle to pick a new cast member to take the role of Sinestro in the upcoming reboot, giving Mark Strong another call wouldn’t be the worst idea. Seeing him utter the Sinestro Corps oath would be worth the price of admission alone.
10 Liev Schreiber – X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2005)
In addition to Taylor Kitsch putting all the effort in and having little to show for it as a supporting star in Origins, another cast member who certainly deserved a better shot was Liev Schreiber. Taking the role of Sabretooth in the backstory of our favorite X-Man, the man who would be Ray Donavon never really got to show the world the Victor Creed he was more than capable of giving us, either.
Schreiber snarls and springs his way through the film but still manages to bring an smart edge to Logan’s most well-known enemy that works in just the right way. Had he stuck around, the possibilities for future projects would’ve been endless (how can a villain who hunts his adamantium-laced adversary on every one of his birthdays not be a compelling idea?). It’s almost a shame that they couldn’t find space for him in Logan, as reports suggests he was in the original blueprint for Wolverine’s swan song.
9 Peter Dinklage – X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
Back when word got out that Peter Dinklage was going to be turning up in Days of Future Past as Sentinel-creator, Bolivar Trask, bets were that he was going to feature fairly heavily in the film. It made sense at the time. An already award-winning talent who was riding a wave of success from Game of Thrones would surely not be wasted in what was an integral part of such a beloved story arc, right? Nope, turns out that’s exactly what happened.
Besides looking in a microscope and palying Mystique in Trask-mode, there’s really not a lot that Dinklage gets to do as the man behind the attempted extermination of the mutant race. With most of the attention once again focusing on the feud between Professor X and Magneto, anyone that doesn’t have a special power doesn’t get a look in-- and that includes an Emmy-award winning addition. Honestly, don't they know Dinklage is a Lannister?
8 Ben Kingsley – Iron Man 3 (2013)
Remember the hype that grew when we first got a glimpse at Sir Ben Kingsley as the Mandarin, the long-time foe to our armored Avenger, Iron Man, in Shane Black’s Iron Man 3? The cold threats, the terrorist-like angle that was displayed to suggest just what we were in for? Then remember when it turned out he was really a drug-addicted failed actor from England named Trevor Slattery? Honestly, Marvel – you’ve made some bold moves but this one split fans down the middle.
Somewhere between odd and amusing, revealing one of Iron Man’s greatest foes to actually be a complete ruse was a twist no one expected, and a lot of people didn’t want. Sure, Sir Ben does a great job of playing up the jittery, Jack Sparrow-like red herring, but we would’ve preferred him to be the intimidating terror from an unknown location that he started out as.
It was a trick that didn’t quite play off as well as it should have. Marvel has been careful to avoid any similar issues ever since, unless Thanos turns out to be some intergalactic space conman in purple make-up. Good Lord, imagine the riots!
7 Frank Grillo – Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Considering that Frank Grillo was taken down but not out of the game in The Winter Soldier, and the character’s importance in Civil War from the comics, it was hardly surprising that fans thought Brock Rumlow, aka Crossbones, may be in it for the long run for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That idea was quickly blown to smithereens in the opening of Captain America: Civil War when Rumlow stepped in as a plot device (and an explosive one at that), causing a truckload of trouble for our heroes.
Crossbones ended the second chapter of the Cap saga on a mission of vengeance that’s cut annoyingly short in Civil War. It honestly could’ve been anyone trapped in Wanda’s force field bubble, but the fact that it was another villain who actually was fun to watch and occasionally boo just added more to the argument that Marvel can’t handle their bad guys-- unless he’s a Norse god who looks like Tom Hiddleston.
6 The Fantastic Four – Fantastic Four (2005)
There’s a few corners being cut with this entry as it was hard to pick just one cast member who was wasted more than others. Every member of this newly developed superhero family had the talent to provide something special in Fantastic Four and come out stronger than the Tim Story-directed take from years before. With the likes of Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell, and most importantly, Michael B. Jordan being given the chance to silence fans' casting doubts, this team really could’ve been fantastic.
Of course, none of that materialized in Josh Trank’s 2015 dark, dull, and disconnected adaptation. Marvel’s first superhero team barely spend any time together as an actual group, and as a result no chemistry is developed to make you remotely interested for 106 excruciating minutes. Admittedly, talk is still stirring about getting the gang back together for a sequel, regardless of the horrific box office results the debut delivered.
5 Christopher Eccleston – Thor: The Dark World (2013)
There’s no denying that of all the Marvel films, Thor: The Dark World sits somewhere at the bottom of the list for many. In the Thor sequel that time forgot,one element that vanished even further into the annals of the cinematic universe was Christopher Eccleston as the sequel's big bad; the Dark Elf Lord, Malekith.
Handling both maniacal and menacing roles at times (check out 28 Days Later for evidence – he’s awesome), Eccleston’s performance here is hidden behind layers of prosthetic make-up, and mostly subtitles as he wages war on Asgard for a feud that that’s as basic as they come. Given his generic agenda and appearance nearly indistinguishable from his cronies, Malekith is hard to spot amongst his own army, let alone Marvel’s long line of placid antagonists.
There’s a handful of bad guys Eccleston could’ve stepped into the shoes of for Marvel (heck, he’d have made a good Kilgrave, but they had another Doctor in mind). Instead, Eccleston plays just another target for Thor to throw his hammer at. We can only hope Cate Blanchett doesn’t suffer the same fate when she arrives in Thor: Ragnarok, later this year.
4 Jesse Eisenberg – Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
If there’s one certainty with Jesse Eisenberg’s take on Lex Luthor in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice it’s that it left fans wondering what the hell he, or Snyder, was thinking when he took the job of bringing down Superman. There’s something massively off about Eisenberg’s portrayal of the megalomaniac foe to the Man of Steel and that’s because there’s very little you can associate with what his performance and the confident, scene-stealing Lex that we're accustomed to.
Following in the footsteps of Gene Hackman and Kevin Spacey (who was one of the strongest elements of Superman Returns), Eisenberg’s take on Lex is a slightly unsettling, twitchy version of his take on Mark Zuckerberg. Littering interactions with verbal ticks more than intimidating threats, in an alternate universe, Eisenberg would be taking the screen as The Riddler rather than Mr. Luthor. He’s a capable actor who was miscast. We can only hope when he does make a return, he’ll be a better rounded and more calculated character Lex.
3 Natalie Portman – Thor, Thor: The Dark World (2011, 2013)
It’s bad enough that Natalie Portman was signed up as a brainy beauty who gets swept off her feet by an oafish fish out of water in Thor – but the fact that this particular brainy beauty happens to be Jane Foster makes it all the more frustrating. Come on Marvel, what were you thinking, really?
Seeing this Oscar-winning actress reduced to nothing but a damsel in distress in not one, but two Marvel films feels almost an offense to the character that the source material helped build over the years. Some time after the release of Thor’s big screen debut, Jane Foster actually took up Mjolnir herself and replaced the Norse god in the comics. This amazing chapter in Foster’s story line is something we’ll probably never get to see, which is a shame as Portman was worthy of more than what she was given. Absent from Thor: Raganarok, chances are that Foster's been written out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe for good.
2 Edward Norton – The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Let’s make it incredibly clear – Mark Ruffalo makes for a great Bruce Banner. For three films now (including Thor: Ragnarok), he’s done his character justice playing both the tortured man and the relentless monster he holds within him. But let’s not forget the other actor, Edward Norton, who took on the magically expanding purple bottoms.
Producing, co-writing, and starring in this new adaptation of Bruce Banner and his rather big, green alter-ego, the outcome of The Incredible Hulk wasn’t half bad, mainly thanks to Norton. Here was another actor who was putting all his passion into bringing this character to life,and sadly his efforts were for naught, as they went with Ruffalo the next time round, anyway.
Due to creative differences and various other issues, Norton and Paramount parted ways on the precipice of assembling The Avengers, which is where Ruffalo stepped in and Norton stepped out. Whilst he did have a hand at bringing the jolly green giant to the MCU, it’s a shame that he didn’t stick with it. Cue the sad Bill Bixby music.
1 Michael Shannon – Man of Steel (2013)
Before things went a bit off for the DC Cinematic Universe, Zack Snyder made a few great choices when he took on Man of Steel; namely casting Michael Shannon as the warped, war-hungry zealot, General Zod. Enraged by the decimation of his home planet and keen to find a new home in its place, Shannon’s Zod works so brilliantly because he’s a villain you can relate to – and what’s more fascinating than a bad guy with an understandable point of view?
The negative zone… er, side of this is that Snyder did away with one of Superman’s greatest foes in one defeaning snap and cut off all chances of bringing him back as the other Kryptonian survivor for future films. Okay, so Lex does work some magic in Dawn of Justice and transforms him into Doomsday, but that’s not the sort of reappearance we want. We want a crazed spaceman seeking vengeance against his enemy’s offspring one last time-- now that’s just never going to happen.
Which actor do you think was most wasted in a comic book movie role? Share in the comments!
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