Everyone knows the Marvel Cinematic Universe is made up of a roster of actors as wonderful and as diverse as the characters they play. And most of these actors have found success outside of the MCU as well as within it. Some in other, billion-dollar grossing box office smashes and some in more arthouse and experimental fare.
But sometimes these performances fly under the radar of even the most ardent Marvel Cinematic Universe fan. Below are ten performances by MCU actors outside of the MCU. 5 underrated performances by actors in the MCU that you may have missed and 5 that you really should avoid...
10 (Best) Paul Bettany in Master and Commander
Not only an underrated Paul Bettany role but an underrated film all around; Peter Weir's Master and Commander is a fantastically enjoyable adventure film. The lead performance by Russell Crowe as cocky ship captain Jack Aubrey is great, but it's Bettany as the ship's scholarly surgeon Stephen Maturin who really shines. He's funny and charming and the back and forth between him and Crowe is fun to watch. Outside of the MCU, not many Marvel fans will be familiar with this but it really is Bettany's best work. The film is worth checking out for Bettany's performance alone but the rest of it is also awesome and despite the realistic narrative, refreshingly light-hearted.
9 (Worst) Michael Keaton in Need For Speed
First things first, Michael Keaton is always awesome. Whatever the quality of the movie around him, Michael Keaton can always be relied on to deliver a memorable performance. And in the MCU, his turn as Adrian Toomes (or The Vulture) is one of the best villain performances in the entire MCU. But his role in the 2014 Need For Speed leaves a bit more to be desired. Keaton is his usual manic self but for some unknown reason, the performance is phoned in. No, literally. Well Skyped in, as the actor delivers the entirety of his performance over a computer screen. More Michael Keaton is always good but it helps if he's actually there.
8 (Best) Robert Downey Jr in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Before Robert Downey Jr and director Shane Black teamed up for the (underappreciated) Iron Man 3, they worked together on the wonderful neo-noir film, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. It follows criminal and accidental actor Harry Lockheart (Downey Jr) and his PI friend Gay Perry (an equally fantastic Val Kilmer) through LA's seedy underbelly.
The wisecracking Tony Stark that Marvel fans know and love was practically born in this movie. Downey Jr is the perfect man for Black's wisecracking, laugh a minute script. He effortlessly switches from hilarious to heartbreaking when the scene demands it. Darker than his MCU stuff, but a must watch for any team-Iron Man fans.
7 (Worst) Samuel L. Jackson in The Spirit
As comic book movies go, not many actors have had as much success as Samuel L. Jackson. As the MCU's Nick Fury, Jackson has appeared in nearly half of the MCU cinematic output. Outside of this, he's turned in great performances in the likes of Kingsman and M. Night Shyamalan realist superhero movies, Unbreakable and Glass. But his performances haven't always been top notch, as anyone who has seen 2008's The Spirit can tell you. Based on the Will Eisner comic strip of the same name, the Frank Miller-directed flop was a critically and commercial failure. Unfortunately, even Jackson couldn't escape the film unscathed, turning in an uncharacteristically bored and boring performance.
6 (Best) Scarlett Johansson in Under The Skin
A good chunk of MCU cast members are fantastic, award-winning actors. Between them, they've taken part in their fair share of experimental and arthouse movies, often risking their more clean-cut image established in the Marvel movies. But no actor has perhaps done that more than the Black Widow herself, Scarlett Johansson, starring in Johnathan Glazer's super-experimental, super-disturbing Under the Skin.
Not only did the role call for actual, real life, candid camera style filming, but the obtuse storytelling and horrific visuals means it's not exactly going to please Avengers fans. Johansson, however, is brilliant in the film. She's creepy and does some horrible things but you also feel for her - all due to Johansson's expressive performance. Her standalone Black Widow movie can't come soon enough.
5 (Worst) Benedict Cumberbatch in The Fifth Estate
Benedict Cumberbatch has provided audiences with some outstanding performances over the years. As the eponymous Sherlock, he's entertained millions of fans around the world with what might be the best ever interpretation of the character. His very own MCU performance in Doctor Strange was also brilliant (and underrated). But his weird portrayal of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in 2013's The Fifth Estate, was never going to win him any awards. Maybe is the off-putting wig, or the dodgy accent, or the fact that Assange himself asked Cumberbatch to distance himself from the film, but something just didn't feel right about the performance. Luckily Cumberbatch was soon on to bigger and better things.
4 (Best) Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen in Wind River
Now this one is a tie because, as luck would have it, Wind River stars two MCU actors and both turn in career-best performances. The film follows Renner's Cory Lambert, a wildlife officer in Wyoming, who finds the body of an 18-year-old woman on an American Indian reservation. Rookie FBI agent Jane Banner (Olsen) is called in and the two team up to get to the bottom of the murder case. Renner's performance as a quietly grieving father is raw and heartbreaking while Olsen's earnest but in over her head FBI agent is the heart of the film. Written and directed by Taylor Sheridan, anyone who saw Sheridan's previous screenwriting credits (Sicario, Hell or High Water) will be familiar with the sort of violent neo-western style of Wind River.
3 (Worst) Josh Brolin in Jonah Hex
Before Josh Brolin hit it big with his downright amazing performance as 'The Mad Titan' Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War, he starred in another comic book adaptation. Jonah Hex tells the story of a Confederate soldier (Brolin) who, after being betrayed, scarred and left for dead by his commanding officer, wreaks his revenge as a bloodthirsty bounty hunty. Despite the promising source material, the film was a critical and commercial failure. Brolin's performance as the lead is lightyears away from the nuanced and sympathetic performance as Thanos.
Perhaps it's the dodgy make-up or perhaps Brolin just didn't care but his take on the supernatural bounty hunter is bored and stilted.
2 (Best) Chris Evans in Snowpiercer
If you live in most western territories, you're probably not too familiar with Snowpiercer. Boon Jong-Ho's 2013 graphic novel adaptation was unfortunately cut to shreds by the Weinstein Company and never saw a true English language release until long after. And that's a real shame because Snowpiercer is an amazing film. Violent, funny, emotional and scarily prescient, it's truly one of a kind and it's Captain America himself, Chris Evan's, who holds it all together. His performance as Curtis, leader of the resistance fighting their way up through a dystopian train where the rich live up front in comfort and the poor are crammed in the back and left to die. It's a career-defining performance from Evan's. His heartbreaking speech at the end of the film where he reveals the lengths he's been forced to go to survive is heartbreaking.
1 (Worst) Robert Downey Jr in The Shaggy Dog
Only a mere few months after his career-best performance in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Robert Downey Jr turned in what might be his career worst. The 2006 Tim Allen comedy not only has the worst poster of any film ever but also the worst Downey Jr performance and one he'd rather you forgot. A remake of the 1959 film of the same name, The Shaggy Dog follows Allen's district attorney Dave Douglas as he gets wrapped up in some evil genetic experimentation, led by Dr Kozak (an unfortunate Downey Jr). Downey Jr gives it his all, he really does. But not only is he not convincing as the villain but he flies between bored and hammy in an instant. However, a scene that sees Robert Downey Jr bounding around a courtroom like a dog almost makes the film worthy of recommending. Fortunately, we don't think Downey Jr lost too much sleep over this as a couple of years later Iron Man was released and cemented him as one of the best modern-day movie stars.