Needless to say, comic book movies are everywhere. So it’s no surprise that more and more actors are taking on not just one role plucked from the pages of a comic, but two, three, four – even five. Many play superheroes and supervillains, some are secret agents or assassins, and others are just normal people put in extraordinary circumstances.
With the box office success of Deadpool, we put together a list of the best of these actors. After all, Wade Wilson is the fourth comic book character Reynolds has played (but more on that below...). The entries on our list are ranked based on a combination of the number of roles and performances, and the significance of those roles. But there are some rules: no voice work in animated projects, we’re talking live-action films and TV shows only; no comic strip characters; and no characters in movies that weren’t in comics (like Morgan Freeman, who was the comic character Lucius Fox in the Dark Knight trilogy, but his character Joe in Red was not in the graphic novel – so that’s just one comic book character for him).
Here they are, the best 20 Actors Who Have Played Multiple Comic Book Characters…
20 Josh Hartnett
2005’s Sin City was a visual masterpiece, like a comic book come to life. It was directed by the creator of the Dark Horse Comics series of the same name, Frank Miller, along with Robert Rodriguez. And Josh Hartnett starred in it as “The Man,” in his first comic book role. In the film, the character, also known as “the Colonel,” follows a somewhat different timeline than in the comic series, but he’s nonetheless a suave assassin.
Two years later, Hartnett appeared in the vampire flick 30 Days of Night, based on the acclaimed comic book series published by IDW. He played the human protagonist Eben Oleson (Eben Olemaun in the comics). Without giving too much away, he begins the film (and comic) as the sheriff of Barrow, Alaska, a town invaded by vampires, and it’s his job to fight them off.
19 Michael Caine
With a whopping 160 acting credits on IMDB dating back to 1950, it’s amazing that 82-year-old acting legend Michael Caine didn’t appear as a comic book character until 2005’s Batman Begins. He was in a movie called Gambit in 1966, but that was definitely not about the Marvel character. No, that first comic book role was the immortal Alfred, Bruce Wayne/Batman’s faithful butler. Of course, the character is more than a butler to Bruce – he’s pretty much everything to him as an orphaned child, on up to being a trusted confidant and father-figure as an adult. And Caine, with his soothing demeanor, was perfect for the part, which he played in all three films in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy.
After he finally put away the Alfred shirt and tie, following The Dark Knight Rises, Caine returned to the comic book world for Kingsman: The Secret Service in 2014. He played Arthur, another shirt-and-tie-wearing fellow, but wildly different from the fatherly Alfred. We can’t say too much about the character without giving away major plot points, but he is the leader of the secret Kingsmen organization.
18 Eva Mendes
As Roxanne Simpson in 2007’s Ghost Rider, Eva Mendes first hit the big screen as a comic book character. In the comics, Roxanne plays a key role in Johnny Blaze becoming the Ghost Rider, and has a bit of a penchant for magic. But the role Mendes took on paints a different backstory. Rather than growing up together and eventually becoming a couple, as they did in the comics, in the movie they meet briefly as teenagers and then reunite later in life.
Just a year later, Mendes took the role of femme fatale Sand Saref in The Spirit. The character is decidedly less sweet and well-intentioned than Roxanne. Sand is in it for the money, period. The title character’s childhood sweetheart, she has a knack for seducing rich men, having them killed, and taking their money.
17 Tommy Lee Jones
One of the older actors on this list, Tommy Lee Jones is known for playing two high-profile comic book characters – one a good guy, the other a baddie. First, the bad dude: Harvey Dent/Two-Face in Batman Forever, back in 1995. His look was over the top, with the acid-scarred side of his face looking almost cartoonishly demonic, with purple hair and a strange smile – too much like The Joker.
Second, and certainly more successfully, he has played Agent K in all three Men in Black films – the older version, that is. You’ve heard about actors playing against type? Well, this role was the opposite of that for Jones. K is a gruff, serious, by-the-books agent, and that’s exactly the type he plays in most of his movies, and the way many people perceive him in real life.
16 Rebecca Romijn
In the comic book world, Rebecca Romijn is most famous for playing the nearly nude blue baddie Mystique, which has since been taken over by Jennifer Lawrence as the younger version. Romijn first took on the shapeshifting role in the original 2000 film X-Men and reprised it in X2: X-Men United and X-Men: The Last Stand, plus an uncredited cameo in X-Men: First Class.
But in between appearances as Mystique, the model-turned-actress played Joan in 2004’s The Punisher. It was definitely a far cry from her villainous ways in those X-Men movies, though. Joan was a much more mild-mannered character who helps the vigilante hero, a real force for positivity in his otherwise vengeance-filled existence.
15 Brandon Routh
Back in 2006, many people didn’t know who Brandon Routh was when he debuted as one of the most iconic superheroes of all time in Superman Returns. He’d never had a leading role in a feature film – in fact, as far as films go, he’d only had one very minor role in one film, to go with a handful of TV appearances. What did he have going for him? He had the physique and the ideal look. He actually fairly closely resembled Christopher Reeve, who played Superman in four movies in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Ultimately, though, the film and his performance weren’t good enough to spawn a new franchise, and the character was rebooted with Henry Cavill in the red cape in 2013.
More recently, Routh has taken on a different DC character with much more success, playing Ray Palmer/The Atom in the DC television series Arrow, The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow. While he made guest appearances on the first two series, he’s a regular on Legends of Tomorrow as a hero who’s able to shrink himself to the subatomic level. In addition to that, he's also played Todd Ingram, a superpowered rock star and vegan, in comic book adaptation Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, and the title character in the little-seen Dylan Dog, an adaptation of an Italian detective comic.
14 Bruce Willis
Usually a somewhat realistic action hero, Bruce Willis first appeared as a character with superhuman powers in 2000’s Unbreakable. But, despite the super powers, that wasn’t a comic book movie. His first comic book character appearance came in 2005, with Frank Miller’s Sin City. He played John Hartigan, a gruff, yet dedicated police detective. Willis returned to the role in the 2014 sequel, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.
In between the two Sin City flicks, Willis appeared as another comic book character in 2010’s RED, based on the WildStorm comics title. He played yet another action-heavy character, Frank Moses (changed from Paul Moses in the comic), in a film that took a comedic turn away from the comic’s more serious feel.
13 Samuel L. Jackson
Leading up to 2008’s Iron Man, Samuel L. Jackson signed a nine-picture deal to play the leader of Marvel’s S.H.I.E.L.D. agency, Nick Fury. To date, he’s appeared in seven, including brief, uncredited appearances in that original Iron Man and the first Thor film. He’s even popped up a couple of times as Fury on TV’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and has voiced the character in video games. Jackson has had a profound effect on the comics version of Fury, too. In the comics, he was long known as a brown-and-white-haired white man, but they drastically changed him for the Ultimate Marvel version to look like Jackson’s take: a bald, goateed black man. The regular Marvel Universe has since retired the old Fury and replaced him with a Jackson-esque version, the old Fury’s African American son.
Around the same time Jackson strapped on Fury’s eye patch, he also took the role of Octopus in 2008’s The Spirit. As a supervillain, Octopus is on the opposite end of the hero spectrum from Fury. In the comics, Octopus was known as a master of disguise, never showing his face. We definitely see the villain’s face in the film. Also, a portion of the comic villain Dr. Cobra’s story from the comics was melded into Octopus’ story in the film.
12 Jim Carrey
One of the highest grossing comedic actors of all time, Jim Carrey has starred as either three or four comic book characters, depending on how you count. His first foray came in one of his breakout films, 1994’s The Mask. The character first appeared in Dark Horse publications in 1987. The film was a massive box office hit, following mild-mannered Stanley Ipkiss as he finds a strange mask that, when worn, transforms him into a manic, green-faced crazy person.
The following year, Carrey inhabited a comic book character again, but this time it was in a much more established world: the world of Batman. He was the obvious choice to slip into the Riddler’s slinky green costume for Batman Forever in 1995. Unfortunately, it didn’t result in an Earth-shattering performance. And, more recently, he played Colonel Stars and Stripes in 2013’s Kick-Ass 2 – and this is where the “three or four” thing comes in. This character was a combination of two characters from the Kick-Ass comic: Colonel Stars and Lieutenant Stripes. In the film, he founds the superhero group Justice Forever, helping and inspiring Kick-Ass.
11 Zoe Saldana
In 2009, Zoe Saldana burst onto the scene in two high-profile roles, in Avatar and Star Trek. The next year, she made her comics character debut as Aisha in The Losers. You pretty much always want Aisha on your team, not just because she’s good, but because she could very well kill you in the blink of an eye if you’re not. She’s cold-blooded and looks out for number one.
More famously, though, Saldana starred as another assassin, the green-skinned alien Gamora in 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy. The adopted daughter of the evil Thanos, she turns on dear old dad and, in the comics, is referred to as “the deadliest woman in the galaxy.” Saldana is currently filming the second Guardians movie and now she's playing significant roles in three major multi-picture film franchises, with her third Star Trek movie set to premiere this summer and three Avatar sequels in the works.
10 Will Smith
One of the biggest box-office stars of his generation, Will Smith has appeared in a number of films that feel like comic book movies, but aren’t. Most notably in that category is Hancock, where he played a reluctant superhero. To date, he’s only actually appeared in one series of movies based on a comic book, with another to come this summer.
First of all, we have the three films in the Men in Black series. His character, Agent J, was originally introduced as “Jay” in two short series of a total of six comics, released in 1990 and 1991. The comics are known to be much darker than the more humorous take the films portrayed. This August, the former Fresh Prince will hit theaters in Suicide Squad as Floyd Lawton/Deadshot. The film, of course, is based on a team of anti-heroes popularized in DC comics.
9 Halle Berry
Halle Berry is not a favorite among many comic book fans, thanks to her portrayals of two significant comic book characters. First came Storm in 2000’s X-Men. While she’s not fans’ least favorite movie X-Person, she’s by no means a fan favorite. Nevertheless, she returned to the screen as the white-haired, flying, weather manipulator in each of the first three X-Men films (and then again in the timeline-altering X-Men: Days of Future Past). And Berry seems to love the role, campaigning this past summer for Fox to make a solo Storm movie.
After her first two tries at Storm, Berry decided to go bad-guy on us in the 2004 Catwoman movie. Or did she? Part of the problem with that movie was that they completely changed the character away from the one DC fans love – she wasn’t even a baddie, per se. Berry looked the part, no question, but it was a bizarre performance in a strange, unnecessary movie that’s regarded as a major bomb. To her credit, she took the criticism in stride, accepting her Razzie Award for Worst Actress in person, thanking Warner Brothers for putting her “in a piece of sh*t, god-awful movie.” Her performance accepting the award was better than her performance in the movie.
8 Ben Affleck
Possibly the most controversial portrayer of superheroes in film, Ben Affleck has now strapped himself into two iconic masks: those of Daredevil and Batman. Infamously, the Daredevil film didn’t go very well for Affleck and company in 2003. Affleck seemed like he was phoning it in, which didn’t help at all when he was already dealing with negative public perception due to his relationship with Jennifer Lopez, which stripped him of his relatable “average Joe” persona. After Daredevil and its bad press, Affleck said, “Wearing a costume was a source of humiliation for me and something I wouldn’t want to do again soon.”
Evidently, enough time has passed. We don’t need to tell you that Affleck will make his debut as Batman in just over a month, in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. It’s been a controversial casting choice since it was announced – there were even online petitions created in hopes of yanking him from the film. We’ve now seen bits of Affleck’s performance in trailers and reactions have been mixed, which at least is better than the all-out failure many comic book fans were expecting.
7 Rosario Dawson
Having made no secret of her love for comic books, it’s no surprise Rosario Dawson has played a few comic book characters. She even created her own comic, Occult Crimes Task Force. She first appeared as a comic character in 2002’s Men in Black II, as Laura Vasquez. Without giving away any spoilers, she plays a key role as the object of the villain’s obsession. Three years later, Dawson showed up as Gail in Sin City. The character appeared in the second Dark Horse Sin City series, A Dame to Kill For, yet she appeared in both the original film and its 2014 sequel, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.
Currently, Dawson can be seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Netflix series, Daredevil, Jessica Jones and the upcoming Luke Cage. She plays Claire Temple, who entered the storyline as a nurse who helps Matt Murdock/Daredevil when he gets injured.
6 Michael Fassbender
Red-hot leading man Michael Fassbender got his comic book feet wet in the original 300, back in 2006, which was based on Frank Miller’s 1998 comic – and as a film, it’s notable for the techniques used to make it look like a moving comic book. Fassbender played the young Spartan soldier Stelios in the massive box-office hit.
Since then, he’s taken on a couple of other comic book roles. Most notably, of course, is the younger version of Magneto/Erik Lensherr (originally played by Sir Ian McKellen), starting with 2011’s X-Men: First Class, and continuing in X-Men: Days of Future Past and the upcoming X-Men: Apocalypse. In 2010, Fassbender also appeared in Jonah Hex, based on the DC comic, playing the psychopathic villain Burke. Unlike Magneto, it’s unlikely he’ll be reprising the role of Burke, after the film bombed with critics and audiences alike.
5 Scarlett Johansson
Scarlett Johansson wasn’t exactly known as an action star before she was first cast as Natalie Rushman/Natasha Romanoff (who would, of course, later be revealed as Black Widow) in 2010’s Iron Man 2. But she’s gone on to convincingly reprise the role with action-packed appearances in the original Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Avengers: Age of Ultron and the upcoming Captain America: Civil War.
But her first comic book role came as a teen actor way back in 2001 as Rebecca in Ghost World. While not a superhero action movie, it was based on the stories of two cynical teenage girls dealing with suburban life, which started in the comic book series Eightball and was later published as its own title in book form. ScarJo also appeared in 2008’s The Spirit as the villain Silken Floss. The Spirit began in 1940 as a newspaper comic insert, but has also appeared in traditional comic book form over the years and became a part of the DC Universe in 2007.
4 Josh Brolin
Josh Brolin isn’t the first actor that comes to mind when it comes to playing comic book characters. He’s not an Avenger, he’s not an X-Man or a Superman or a Batman (although he says he spoke to director Zack Snyder about playing Bats in Batman V Superman). None of those super high-profile heroes. But he’s definitely one of the most prolific portrayers of comic characters.
It’s actually a fairly recent development in the 48-year-old actor’s long career, but he’s squeezed a lot into the last few years. It started with his title role in the 2010 box office stinker Jonah Hex. Two years later came his turn as a young Agent K in Men in Black 3, where he did a bang-on impression of a young Tommy Lee Jones. In 2014 we saw him inhabit Dwight in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For and the terrifying villain Thanos in a brief, uncredited appearance in Guardians of the Galaxy. He reprised Thanos in another cameo in Avengers: Age of Ultron last year and has been announced to play the super-powerful supervillain once again in 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War – Part 1.
3 Jeffrey Dean Morgan
Kind of quietly, late-blooming actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan has appeared as five different comic book characters, all while in his 40s. It all started with Watchmen in 2009, when he played Edward Blake/Comedian, the amoral vigilante who may or may not have assassinated President John F. Kennedy.
The following year, Morgan took on a starring role in the film version of Vertigo’s The Losers, as Clay. The largely forgettable film limped along at the box office. Also in 2010, he made an uncredited appearance in Jonah Hex as Jeb Turnbull. Next, he’s slated to appear on the small screen this season in a highly anticipated role as the evil Negan on The Walking Dead. Finally, we’ll soon see him in the upcoming Batman V Superman, playing Bruce Wayne’s father, Thomas.
2 Chris Evans
Chris Evans belongs to a rare group of actors who have played more than one fairly high-profile comic book character. It goes without saying that he’s currently the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Captain America, having played Cap in two (soon to be three with this year’s Captain America: Civil War) Captain America movies, two Avengers flicks, plus uncredited appearances in both Ant-Man and Thor: The Dark World. But Evans’ first high-profile comic book hero was Human Torch/Johnny Storm in 2005’s Fantastic Four and its 2007 sequel.
But Evans also played a couple of slightly less super-hero-y characters in 2010. He appeared as Capt. Jake Jensen in The Losers, where he played against type as a quirky, nerdy computer expert. Just a few months later, he was back on the big screen in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, as one of Ramona’s Evil Exes, Lucas Lee. Though not a superhero per se, he did possess super strength, which was on display in a big battle against Scott.
1 Ryan Reynolds
Finally, and possibly most obviously, Ryan Reynolds. Currently everyone’s favorite multiple-comic-book-character-playing actor thanks to his current stint as Deadpool, in the mega-popular movie of the same name, it’s not even his first time playing the character. He first cracked wise as Deadpool/Wade Wilson in 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
Of course, he also famously, unsuccessfully starred as the title character in Green Lantern in 2011. Although it’s generally believed that the film’s troubles had less to do with Reynolds and more to do with the production side of things. Those are his two most high-profile comic gigs, but there are a couple more as well. His first came as Hannibal King way back in 2004’s Blade: Trinity. And we can’t forget about 2013’s R.I.P.D. Well, actually, maybe we can. Reynolds played co-lead Nick in this critically panned, box-office bomb based on the comic book Rest In Peace Department.
Can you think of any other actors who have played multiple comic book roles? Let us know in the comments!