Arguably one of the biggest powerhouses in the current world of movie and television, Marvel has produced dozens of films and TV series ranging all the way back to the first half of the twentieth century.
Since the 1990s, however, the mega-franchise has really become a global creative superpower, particularly since the introduction of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
With over 20 films having been produced as adaptations of Marvel works (whether by Sony, Fox, or Marvel themselves), hundreds of actors have been tasked with bringing iconic characters to life.
Whether a famed hero, an infamous villain, or a character created for the new work, actors of all talent levels have been given a chance to shine on the big and little screens in these important roles.
Some casting choices have been unparalleled successes, contributing to the cultural phenomenon that Marvel has become. But some casting choices have been anything but successful — outright failures that lead audiences to question why these choices were made in the first place. With great power comes great responsibility, after all.
Here are the 8 Casting Decisions That Saved Marvel (And 7 That Ruined It).
15. Saved: Wesley Snipes
Black Panther is rightfully getting out of this world praise, and Chadwick Boseman may truly be a revelation as T’Challa, King of Wakanda, but no amount of hype can change the fact that Black Panther isn’t the first Marvel movie about a black superhero. Long before there was Wakanda, there was Blade.
Campy and action-packed and just plain fun, the Blade trilogy would be nowhere near as enjoyable as it is had anyone but the larger than life Wesley Snipes been cast as the vampire hunting kick-butt Eric Brooks.
The movie series itself may not have the best critical response — not a single film’s score is higher than 57% — but none of the blame for that can rest on the shoulders of Snipes’ charismatic performance.
14. Ruined: Benedict Cumberbatch
The casting of Dr. Stephen Strange was one that attracted much fan attention and speculation. Fan casting after fan casting was shared on the internet, with names like Adrien Brody and Oded Fehr routinely topping the lists.
Certain groups of fans in particular hoped that this would present an opportunity for the MCU to increase its diversity, given the often non-white appearance of the character in comics.
And yet, when the time came, Marvel decided to cast Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch in the role. We don’t really have much of anything against Cumberbatch — his Sherlock is by far one of the finest there has been — but the decision to cast him in so plum a role seemed more than a little unfortunate.
Adding insult to injury here, of course, is Cumberbatch’s past experience of being cast as Khan in Star Trek: Into Darkness — yet another role that should have rightfully gone to a person of color, according to fans almost everywhere.
13. Saved: Samuel L. Jackson
Nick Fury doesn’t exactly have the easiest job in the world. As the all powerful and supremely badass leader of the organization known as S.H.I.E.L.D., there’s rarely a day that goes by in his world that doesn’t involve trying to put an end to some catastrophe.
As the voice of reason and the ostensible boss of some of the world’s most powerful people, Nick had to seem like a force to be reckoned with, someone who has seen it all and been through it all and more.
It suffices to say that Marvel couldn’t have chosen anyone more well-suited for the role than the inimitable Samuel L. Jackson.
With his perfectly dry sense of humor, his commanding screen presence, and his booming voice, Jackson has given Fury every bit of gravitas and authority that he needs to display in each and every second he commands the screen.
12. Ruined: Elodie Yung
Elektra is a character that has proven to be difficult to adapt well. Reckless and ruthless and yet capable of genuine emotion when the time calls, the skilled assassin needs to be as complexly handled in any potential adaptation so that she feels fully-formed and more than just a flatly villainous character.
Unfortunately, the MCU’s adaptation of Elektra may be one of the worst yet – if not the worst — all thanks to the terrible miscasting of Elodie Yung as the tempestuous foil to Matt Murdock’s Daredevil.
With line delivery that feels overly wrought, and a manic and often unhinged glee that seems even too far for the out of this world Elektra, Yung’s performance is hard to sympathize with in any way.
11. Saved: Ming-Na Wen
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D has been a frustrating series from the very beginning. With so much promise, the series has often failed to deliver on being the best of what it should be. But one performance has stood out from among the rest since the start – Mign-Na Wen as Agent Melinda May.
Tough as nails and yet compassionate beyond belief, May serves as the ostensible mother of the rag tag group of agents, guiding them alongside Clark Gregg’s Coulson.
Yet May has experienced her fair share of losses and struggles with her own slew of demons, including her tragically fated marriage to Andrew Garner/Lash and her own death and resurrection.
And each and every scene May is in, Wen knocks so far beyond out of the park. In humor, in dramatic moments, and in sheer displays of superheroic power and skill, Wen’s portrayal of May truly represents what it means to be a hero, even in the most dire of circumstances.
10. Ruined: Brett Dalton
Simply put, the HYDRA plot may have been one of the biggest mistakes the MCU ever made. Setting up stakes that were never fully delivered, and totally forgotten about in the blink of an eye, HYDRA introduced countless unlikable characters — and, in the case of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, made already unlikable characters even worse.
Agent Grant Ward was never much of a sympathetic character. Full of himself and reckless, he was arguably the weakest link of the team from the very beginning.
Making matters worse, Brett Dalton was never a very strong actor, squinting and setting his jaw through scene after scene and trying to act tough.
But through the reveal that Ward was an agent of HYDRA, Dalton’s acting only worsened, as he now found himself tasked with trying to act like a double agent. And as he couldn’t handle acting as an agent on its own… Well, it suffices to say that this was a bad idea from start to finish.
9. Saved: Hayley Atwell
The MCU has had a hard time of it when it comes to female characters. With the Avengers only having one female hero, it’s more than easy to be inclined to think of the world of these heroes as a bit of a boys’ club. At least, that was true until Peggy Carter entered the scene.
Stealing hearts everywhere with her turn in Captain America: The First Avenger, the future founder of S.H.I.E.L.D. proved herself to be quite the powerhouse thanks to the talents of her portrayer, Hayley Atwell
. Atwell’s Carter was such a hit that she earned not only her own Marvel short film, but also two seasons of her own television series Agent Carter which developed the character far more than she had ever been intended.
Through Atwell’s wonderful grasp on the perfect mixture of comedic timing, combat skills, and the intricacy of human emotion and trauma, Peggy Carter remains to this day as one of the strongest characters the MCU has ever put forth. It’s just a shame that her own story was cut short, thanks to ABC canceling her series after two short seasons.
8. Ruined: Topher Grace
For many fans, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy remain some of the best superhero films made to date. Full of action and heart in equal measure, the trilogy follows Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker as he completes the hero’s journey to become Spider-Man. Spider-Man 2 routinely tops lists as the best superhero film ever made.
But when it comes to Spider-Man 3, well, perhaps the less that’s said, the better. The film feels totally out of place compared to the prior two, which boasted impressive villains and serious acting talent. The third film, however, muddles through with a slew of villains and over the top acting in spades.
Perhaps the worst offender is That 70’s Show star Topher Grace, who takes on the mantle of Eddie Brock/Venom among the crew of villains facing Spidey down.
Grace never feels believable as a true villainous dramatic threat, so woefully miscast in an acting role out of his league that much of the movie’s most cringeworthy moments hinge on his inability to reach the necessary level of acting.
7. Saved: Chris Evans
Captain America has long been used in an overly simplistic way — as a means of representing jingoistic enthusiasm and bravado. From his very first outing in Captain America: The First Avenger, however, the MCU makes it abundantly clear that this is not the narrative they will be telling — nor should it ever be.
The MCU’s Steve Rogers is one of the most compassionate heroes ever to grace the screen. Driven by the profound need to stand up for others unable to defend themselves, and to fight bullies and save the day, Steve is kindness personified. He protects those he cares about with a lionesque ferocity, putting almost everyone before himself in the process.
Through his portrayal of Steve, Chris Evans has shown time and again just how strong an actor he is. In moments of loss and love, reunion and separation, Evans’ Cap is spot on exactly what a superhero should be. And we can’t imagine anyone else ever picking up his shield.
6. Ruined: Ben Affleck
If Elektra has proven difficult to adapt, perhaps it’s only fitting that Matt Murdock has certainly had his fair share of bumps along the way, too.
Charlie Cox’s Daredevil is far and away apart of a class all its own, the bedrock on which the Netflix MCU is based. But for a long time before the series premiered, Daredevil was all but anathema within the Marvel film and television community.
When Cox’s work is compared with what came before, it becomes all the more apparent just how horribly miscast one version was: Ben Affleck’s 2003 portrayal of the blind vigilante lawyer.
To be fair, hardly anything about the 2003 film worked, but Affleck’s performance was truly painful to endure. In fact, Affleck even earned the Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Actor thanks to how bad his work as Murdock was.
5. Saved: Krysten Ritter
Charlie Cox’s Daredevil may have gotten the Netflix MCU off to a resounding start, but if we had to pick someone who represents the streaming universe at its best, Krysten Ritter’s portrayal of the hard boiled, profoundly damaged Jessica Jones would be the winner every time.
As a victim of sexual assault, mind control, and complete and total manipulation, Jessica is haunted by demons the likes of which few MCU heroes can claim to experience.
Plagued by her self-coping through alcohol, as well as her constant fear of commitment and loss, each and every scene Jessica has is fraught with urgency and fear all at once.
Through Ritter’s nuanced talent, Jessica Jones is so much more than just a cliche. Though she may be superhuman in her strength, Jessica may be the most human of all the heroes the MCU has introduced so far, and much of that credit rests on Ritter’s heartbreaking performance.
4. Ruined: Serinda Swan
You would probably not be too far off in trying to make a case that Inhumans as a whole ruined a particular part of Marvel – namely, its ABC television slate. ABC’s series have had their fair share of problems: Inhumans was a colossal failure, Agent Carter never managed to catch on, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D has been polarizing at best.
But within a cast that showed time and again just how woefully out of their element they were, one cast member stands out: Serinda Swan as the terribly costumed and designed Medusa.
With cringeworthy acting, emotionless line delivery, and no real discernible display of badassery beyond the poor use of CGI hair, Swan’s Medusa is a far cry from what the comics character should have been.
Of course, the character’s intricate design may have made Medusa impossible to adapt well from the very beginning. But there’s no denying that Swan’s insufficient acting contributed largely to her failure.
3. Saved: Robert Downey Jr.
When you think of the MCU, there’s most likely one person who comes to mind right away. No matter your own superhero preference, or even if you root for the nuanced villains sometimes, without question, one man has been the face of the cinematic universe from its inception: Tony Stark.
Regardless if you were Team Iron Man or Team Cap in the Civil War, Tony Stark has been one of the most key players in the MCU’s success – and none of it would have been possible without the spot on casting of Robert Downey Jr. in the role.
Sure, Tony’s genius billionaire playboy philanthropist schtick can be amusing. But it’s been Tony’s growth in recent films that have allowed him to truly become one of the hearts of the franchise — and it’s been that same development that has allowed Downey Jr. to shine in an entirely new way each and every time.
2. Ruined: Gwyneth Paltrow
While successive films have allowed Downey Jr. to flourish in a portrayal of a more nuanced Tony Stark, his onscreen lady love has not exactly had the same treatment. On the contrary, with every film that passes, Pepper Potts has become an increasingly grating character.
Although her personality leaves much to be desired as she takes on a larger role in the Iron Man narrative, Potts could have been an intriguing character — had she been well cast. Unfortunately, for the MCU itself and for fans everywhere, Gwyneth Paltrow was chosen for the role.
Paltrow has proven herself to be quite the skilled, award-winning actress over the years, which is what makes her total unlikability in the role of Pepper baffling. Nevertheless, Paltrow comes across as aloof, yet somehow trying too hard in the process.
1. Saved: Hugh Jackman
The relationship between the X-Men and Marvel has been a tenuous one, in terms of property copyright rights at least. With the recent Marvel-Fox acquisition deal, that will likely change, and we may very well see new versions of the X-Men on our screens at some point soon.
However, no new version of Professor X’s mutants could ever surpass one portrayal in particular — and that, of course, is the powerhouse performance of Hugh Jackman as Logan/Wolverine.
Jaded and wise beyond his many, many years, Logan has lived a truly hard life — yet none of that prevents him from caring, from connecting, and from going above and beyond to save those most desperately in need of saving. His character would be easy to ruin, leaning too heavily on bravado and bluster and not enough on compassion and strength.
But Jackman manages the balance deftly, with his performance in the epic 2017 film Logan even raising serious talks of Oscar contention for quite some time. The world of Marvel films will feel so much smaller without his larger than life presence within it.
Can you think of any other casting decisions that saved or ruined Marvel? Sound off in the comments!
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