Considering Marvel’s billion dollar movie franchise, it’s hard to believe they filed bankruptcy in 1996. And even after bankruptcy, low profit margins left the company on uncertain ground with few prospects and fewer successful ventures.
One small success came from selling character licensing to studios. After Howard the Duck’s failure and mediocre results from Marvel Films, executives were happy to sell character licensing for “quick cash.” Then to their surprise, Blade changed the game in 1998 grossing 70 million, of which Marvel only saw $25,000. Spider-Man grossed 400 million in 2001 and the X-Men relaunch made bank with Marvel only seeing chump change. All of the sudden, everyone was profiting off Marvel’s characters except Marvel.
In 2003, company executives decided to build Marvel Studios and usher in a new era of movie making. The move was genius. As of 2017, Marvel has been welcomed into the Disney fold and TV channels are vying for the leftovers.
We no longer think about Captain America without envisioning Chris Evans in the helmet. People who grew up watching Robert Downey Jr., just call him Tony now. And Chris Pratt has been hailed as an intergalactic comedic genius.
But after 18 movies and 6 TV shows from the MCU, have we really broken down the best and worst casting choices? Or have we defaulted to loving the first truly magnificent marvels to hit our local theater?
Here are 10 Incredible MCU Casting Choices (And 10 That Were TERRIBLE).
20. CHARLIE COX – DAREDEVIL (BEST)
Daredevil’s (2003) movie debut was poorly received by critics and audiences, which is likely why Marvel passed him on to the small screen. But Netflix took things to the next level, and Charlie Cox was a big part of that. Whether taking a beating or giving one, he makes you believe the action. His hand-to-hand combat training and skill with a grappling cable lay the ground work for fight scenes that compare to any blockbuster movie.
As Matt Murdock, Cox totes a thin line between the devil and the righteous man who seeks atonement from his priest. In short, Charlie embodies every element of the blind lawyer/crimefighter from Marvel comics. Even the smallest gesture, like the cock of his head in response to a sound, or the flaring of a nostril, captivates viewers.
19. MICKEY ROURKE – IVAN VANKO (WORST)
Mickey Rourke received many harsh reviews for his portrayal of Whiplash in Iron Man 2. From a lack of seeming villainy to his sub-par Russian accent, there is no part of his performance that didn’t take a hit.
Rourke put a lot of work into this role, even spending time in Russian prisons. And as an Academy-nominated method actor, such tactics usually work well for him. So what went wrong? Why did so much of his work end up on the cutting room floor? The answer might be simpler than you think. Rourke felt like he should play the character with more depth and dimension than was scripted.
The problem is the original character was cruel and single-minded. Constant hate and a desire for revenge consumed his every thought. We simply didn’t feel that from Rourke. We saw a conflicted, multi-dimensional shadow of the brutal villain from comic books.
18. CHADWICK BOSEMAN – BLACK PANTHER (BEST)
After a decade of movies, Marvel’s movie-star making machine has made some truly amazing and some utterly awful casting choices. Here are 20 of them.Boseman’s commanding on-screen presence was notable from his first scene in Captain America: Civil War. In spite of being a newcomer among the team’s established stars, T’Challa stole fans’ attention, both in and out of the mask. This is likely due to Boseman’s dead-on portrayal of the character. Even with an overpowering desire for vengeance, the man exuded all the dignity one would expect from a royal-born Wakandian.
Yet in the mask, Black Panther comported himself as a fearsome warrior. With spot-on choreography and a graceful fighting style that would do any comic book justice, it is obvious his rigorous martial arts training paid off. Fans will be delighted to know that his physical training for the upcoming Black Panther movie is even more rigorous.
17. TERRENCE HOWARD – RHODEY (WORST)
There was a lot of controversy over Terrence Howard leaving the role of Rhodey after the first Iron Man movie. But none of it was fan generated. Howard’s portrayal of Rhodey was underwhelming at best. In fact, the controversy existed between the studio and Terrence himself.
According to Howard, he was notified that his role in Iron Man 2 was being significantly cut and so he pulled out. Don Cheadle accepted the role an hour later. But industry rumors suggest that director Jon Favreau and the Marvel team were dissatisfied with Terrence’s performance.
The truth is fans found Terrence’s performance lacking authority as a Lieutenant Colonel and less than convincing as a confidante to Tony Stark. Needless to say, sometimes a poor casting choice is only a temporary set back.
16. PAUL RUDD – ANT-MAN (BEST)
While the MCU’s Ant-Man differs from the traditional version seen in Marvel comics, Paul Rudd fits the suit like it was made for him. And according the movie’s costume designers, it actually was made for him. Mostly known for delivering wry humor and snarky comments in rom-coms, he may have seemed like an odd choice for Ant-Man. But he pulls off the glib ex-con superhero role without missing a beat.
Rudd first received rave reviews as Ant-Man during press screenings of his title movie. But his contribution to Captain America: Civil War truly cemented him as a heavy-weight player in the MCU. With a mixed cast of long-term MCU players and a few spectacular newcomers, he still managed to dominate a great deal of screen time while bringing a much needed comic relief to an otherwise tense sequence of action scenes.
15. NATALIE PORTMAN – JANE FOSTER (WORST)
Natalie Portman has received critical acclaim for multiple dramatic roles including her 2015 portrayal of Jackie Kennedy. But one she might think she’d steer clear of sci-fi movies altogether after receiving such poor reviews for her role as Padmé in the Star Wars prequel trilogy.
That said, it isn’t always easy to determine where an actor’s skill set begins and ends. Art is a fickle beast that way. Where Natalie Portman is concerned, she plays Jane, Thor’s affable romantic love interest and the dramatic woman of conscience, with heart. It’s partially the writing that’s to blame here – she simply doesn’t convince an audience the action is real.
14. DAVID TENNANT – KILGRAVE (BEST)
Tennant’s Kilgrave is arguably one of the best on-screen marvel villains to date. The actor’s quiet visage and grim countenance is unsettling. Much like his comic book counterpart, Jessica Jones‘s Purple Man is frighteningly powerful and twisted. And throughout the course of one season, the character’s complexity is slowly revealed, unfolding much like the villains in a Stephen King novel.
We start out fearful, waiting in anticipation as David Tennant slowly reveals his character’s motivations. He doesn’t need money. He doesn’t want to rule the planet. He just wants to control his own world. And he delivers character exposition in a manner few actors can.
13. CHRISTOPHER ECCLESTON – MALEKITH (WORST)
Christopher Eccleston’s performance as Malekith in Thor: The Dark World lacked the passion and flair he usually puts into his roles. To be fair, Malekith’s character is one dimensional on-screen and on-page. While this trait can limit an actor’s range, it can also be freeing for an actor of Eccleston’s caliber.
With this character’s absence of inner conflict and depth, the right actor could have turned him into a single minded and ferocious force of nature. After all, we are talking a character whose sole purpose in life is to destroy the entire universe.
That said, we all know the MCU doesn’t have a great track record developing on-screen villains outside of the Netflix line-up. And this particular MCU movie was a disappointment to many. While Eccleston can’t be blamed for poor character development in a script, his mediocre performance screams of disinterest or disappointment.
12. KRYSTEN RITTER – JESSICA JONES (BEST)
Krysten Ritter is Jessica Jones. There aren’t many other ways to say that. Every tortured, alcohol induced moment of Jessica’s life is expertly portrayed by Ritter. It is as if she was born for this role. Audiences can literally feel the reluctant hero inside of her. A hero who is clawing to break free from the self-doubt and loathing left behind by the unspeakable atrocities Kilgrave committed against her and others.
It seems that where Zack Snyder failed to bring a successful, dark and gritty DCEU to screen, Netflix has succeeded in spades with the MCU. In classic Marvel style, Ritter’s Jessica Jones displays all of the trauma and human problems we have come to expect from this down to earth, alcoholic-next-door hero.
11. BEN KINGSLEY – THE MANDARIN (WORST)
The Mandarin is yet another example of Marvel’s inability to produce compelling villains within the MCU. Still, among a long list of mediocre villains, Mandarin sticks out as a colossal failure. In truth, as an Academy Award winner, we should be writing about Kingsley’s successes. And yet his performance as the fraudulent face of The Mandarin was adequate at best.
Perhaps it is simply hard to imagine what an audience should expect from an actor who is playing the part of a non-Chinese “hired actor” tasked with pretending to be a Chinese villain. Or perhaps Kingsley regretted taking on the role. The MCU has a reputation for turning mid-range actors into blockbuster names within their hero roster.
So at some point we have to ask why they keep putting Academy award nominees into their villain line-up simply to disappoint us over and over. Are they using great actors to soften the blow of poor characters?
10. MICHAEL ROOKER – YONDU (BEST)
Chris Pratt might be hailed as an intergalactic comedic genius, but Michael Rooker has received a great deal of critical acclaim as the world’s most lovable semi-villainous antagonist – Yondu. In a world where typecasting is a bad word, casting Rooker into this role was pure brilliance.
Rooker has a long history of playing bad guys we love to hate, but in Guardians of The Galaxy Vol 2., he finally got to play a bad guy we just flat-out loved. There aren’t many actors who can say “He may have been your father, boy, but he wasn’t your daddy“, and sound like a bad ass when saying it. Simply put, his character will be missed in the MCU.
9. LEE PACE – RONAN THE ACCUSER (WORST)
Marvel’s Ronan The Accuser is a leader and judicial officer of the Kree Empire. To this end, his countenance, attitude, and very being commands respect and authority within his race and beyond. As a supervillain, his purpose is to further the Kree Empire and his own career. And he feels any action he takes to that end is righteous.
While Pace may have nailed the brooding discontent often seen in this character, his adaption felt more like a rebellious, whiny teenager than a deliberate and unwavering leader. As such, audiences weren’t disappointed when the character was killed at the end of Guardians of the Galaxy. To date, Ronan isn’t expected to return to the MCU in spite of Marvel’s propensity for reviving the dead.
8. MARK RUFFALO – BRUCE BANNER (BEST)
The Incredible Hulk hasn’t received much love from audiences. The Ang Lee directed film in 2003 was widely rejected due to overreliance on CGI, poor writing, and Eric Bana’s portrayal of Dr. Bruce Banner. With so much going wrong, it was hard to find something right about the movie. No one was surprised to see the character completely rebooted for the MCU, as portrayed by Edward Norton.
Still, we didn’t see a convincing, true-to-character Hulk until The Avengers (2012). Mark Ruffalo’s affably humble personality makes him relatable as both Banner and The Hulk. And there is an overwhelming sense of power behind Ruffalo’s haunted version of the man who holds the Hulk at bay. It feels almost as if the monster inside of him lets Banner remain at the surface, if only to keep from succumbing to rage.
One line from The Avengers sums him up better than any other. Just prior to the final battle Bruce looks at Captain America and says “That’s my secret, Captain. I’m always angry.”
7. EDWARD NORTON – BRUCE BANNER (WORST)
Edward Norton is another controversial Marvel performer. Like Terrence Howard, there seems to be some confusion about why he passed on the Marvel gauntlet. His explanation is that he enjoyed the role but did not want to commit to the larger picture. Marvel executives have a different story claiming they didn’t feel he was a fit for the teamwork dynamic required within the MCU and especially their flagship team, The Avengers.
The bottom line here is Norton’s vision of the character was one dimensional. And worse, it was unwavering. He is a notoriously opinionated actor who develops an idea of a character and forges it through at all costs. It is a trait that can be an asset which is easily confirmed by Norton’s multiple Academy nominations. But if you are going to take on a role with an uncompromising sense of direction, it is important to get that character right.
6. TOM HIDDLESTON – LOKI (BEST)
Tom Hiddleston’s performances as Loki in Thor and The Avengers have bought him bigger and bigger roles as the MCU has progressed. He is, after all, the MCU’s premiere supervillain. And there is little doubt that Hiddleston’s acting prowess has gone a long way to cementing that role. Loki’s character complexity, power, and versatility are all played masterfully by Hiddleston. Whether as comic relief, a master manipulator, or a skilled sorcerer, he delivers every scene with apparent ease.
And after Thor: Ragnarok, there is little doubt fans are chomping at the bit to see Loki go toe-to-toe with Doctor Strange. Perhaps we will see that in Avengers: Infinity War. Even if they don’t pit their spells against each other, we may at least see them combining powers to fight together. After all, you never know whose side Loki is going to take in a fight.
5. ERIC LARAY HARVEY – DIAMONDBACK (WORST)
Unbelievable. Lackluster. Over-the-top. These are but a few of the words used to describe Eric’s portrayal of Luke Cage’s arch nemesis, Diamondback. Admittedly, the character was written as an ego-maniacal maniac with little more than a big mouth and a Justin Hammer super-suit. But the reason Diamondback sticks out as the show’s weak link isn’t his larger-than-life character. After all, we are talking about a show with a bullet proof superhero who can lift a car over his head.
Most of us have seen over-the-top characters retain a realistic and believable street-level bravado in the Netflix Marvel roster. The problem with Eric’s performance seems to be a lack of research. He read overly dramatic lines on a script and decided to play them up rather than match the tone of Netflix’s grimly down to earth vision of New York’s crime-ridden underbelly.
4. BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH – DOCTOR STRANGE (BEST)
Director Scott Derrickson never questioned his desire to cast Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange. While he and the studio considered many options, Cumberbatch was always Scott’s first choice. And that became apparent when Marvel Studios and Disney agreed to push back the movie’s projected release date to secure Cumberbatch as the lead.
From day one it seemed even the most die-hard fans cheered the decision without reservation. And it is no wonder: from physical appearance to demeanor and acting chops, Cumberbatch was a spot-on choice for Marvel’s Sorcerer Supreme. And if there were ever any doubts, an $85 million dollar opening weekend certainly resolved the concerns of any closet naysayers.
3. ANSON MOUNT – BLACK BOLT (WORST)
Black Bolt is a fearsome leader with the ability to convey a command with a glance in Marvel comics. His priority rests with the throne and the protection of his own people, and he wears the crown with conviction and wisdom.
Unfortunately, Anson Mount’s on-screen version of the Black Bolt fails to deliver a strong or even authoritative presence through his speechless character. Some might say it is an impossible task, but we have seen many actors convey clear messages and feelings through a nod of the head, a squinted eye, or a heavy brow. Rather than a commanding presence, Mount delivers pained facial expressions more reminiscent of naivety or confusion than authority.
Mount isn’t the only Inhumans actor to feel the sting of bad press. In fact, the entire show is considered to be a catastrophe after 2 months of airtime. If the show lasts a while, perhaps Mount will grow into the character, but prospects aren’t looking good at this time.
2. TOM HOLLAND – SPIDER-MAN (BEST)
Ask who the best Spider-Man is and many moviegoers and die-hard Spider-fans will say Tom Holland. That isn’t to say Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield weren’t good. But Tom Holland is the first Peter Parker to truly radiate the pure joy of being Spider-Man as a teenager while jumping up and down on a bed complaining about being called a kid. The new Spidey is a child superhero among giants like Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man.
Would you want it any other way? Tom Holland’s Spider-Man embodies the core of everything that makes Spider-Man great. That includes a teenager’s problems, growing pains, and the struggle of falling down along the way to figuring out the hero and man he will one day become.
1. FINN JONES – IRON FIST (WORST)
Finn Jones met with critical resistance the moment his fighting scenes appeared on trailers. Then Iron Fist received a flurry of bad press after the show’s first airing, and facing a few reviews, Jones put his superhero hat back on and leaped to the show’s defense citing Donald Trump and a lack of critical insight as the real reasons for the show’s negative press. In fact, he seemed to repeat this to anyone who would listen, much like his character’s propensity to remind everyone he is “The Immortal Iron Fist” in almost every scene of the show.
Jones plays a character whose journey has been split between two worlds. One man, called to walk along two paths, unsure where his allegiances lie. Iron Fist is a man filled with uncertainty, but not insecurity. In this way, its seems Jones is the only person lacking critical insight into the character.
It is important to note that Jones’s fighting style did improve over the course of the show, if unevenly, and Danny Rand was slightly more likable when paired with Luke Cage in The Defenders.
What are your favorite and least favorite MCU casting choices?
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