In addition to Marvel’s success with their Cinematic Universe, their television footprint is at an all time high as well. Marvel has come a long way since Saturday morning cartoons and Lou Ferrigno’s Incredible Hulk. Shows that feature characters from, or inspired by, Marvel comics reside on multiple networks, and each of them honor the House of Ideas in their own way.
Thankfully, most of the shows on the air today do a fine job telling Marvel stories, but we all know how tricky it can be to create a comic book tv show. There are a million simultaneously moving parts that need to fit together or it can go wrong. While usually it’s the special effects or writing of convoluted story lines, sometimes it just comes down to the characters.
The perfect casting choice can unite a whole project: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Pratt, Mike Colter, and Kristen Ritter come to mind as character defining portrayals. They don’t always get it right though.
Here are the 15 Terrible Performances That Ruined Marvel Shows
15 Danny Rand - Iron Fist - Played by Finn Jones
Marvel hit home runs with the Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage series, due mostly to the impeccable casting of the heroes. When it came time for Iron Fist to take its place among Netflix’s The Defenders, they unfortunately came up short.
Finn Jones brought the performance of an out of sync, isolated hero in training, but it hasn’t found its place in either the show or the subsequent miniseries that unites all four heroes. Much of the time spent watching the first season of Iron Fist is devoted to wondering how this poor, lost young man can compete in any fight.
Fans of the character from the comic books remember Iron Fist as a quirky, funny, and rich philanthropist with a heart of gold. Consider the fact that there wasn’t much of a compelling reason to cast this character as a white male, and Finn Jones has a lot going against him. Hopefully, he’ll turn it around in season two.
14 Black Bolt - Inhumans - Played by Anson Mount
First hinted at in Agents of SHIELD, Marvel has been aching to bring their Inhumans property to television, finally granting everyone's wish for a Marvel superhero team show.
What fans got instead was a sloppily marketed quagmire of an eight episode first season, that raised eyebrows rather than warmed hearts. There are more questions than answers in that first season, but a good portion of the blame has to land on the shoulders of the theoretical lead character, Black Bolt.
Played by Anson Mount, the King of the Attilan Inhumans inspired more awkward moments than awe inducement. Due to the majestic, mountain tumbling power of his voice, Black Bolt has virtually no lines in the show, so Mount is relegated to a silent performance.
13 Victor Stein - Runaways - Played by James Marsters
Based on the 2003 comic series of the same name, Runaways, is already well into its first season. The reception for the handful of episodes released has been mostly positive, which is good news for Marvel’s first show on Hulu.
It’s not hard to see why audiences enjoy the show, as the group of teenagers has amazing chemistry from the get go. Fans of The O.C. will recognize producer Josh Schwartz's realistic, comfortable, lived-in feeling. A feeling that persists despite all the kids being the children of millionaires in Brentwood, Los Angeles.
One of those millionaires is Victor Stein, father of Runaway Chase. Played by James Marsters, the secretly evil father seems like a role right up his alley. However, this time his performance went a little over the top, even for a super villain.
12 Joy Meachum - Iron Fist - Played by Jessica Stroup
One of the stranger parts of the first season of Iron Fist was the Meachums, the family currently controlling the Rand Corporation. They didn’t end up being the main villains but they had a lot of drama of their own spread between Joy, her brother Ward, and their father, Harold.
Jessica Stroup brought a forceful, determined performance to Joy Meachum, but there wasn’t much of a direction for her character to take. Her decisions lacked the proper motivation and she just seemed to do whatever was convenient for the plot.
Even though she spent a lot of time on screen, audiences didn’t really learn that much about her. We can only hope that the second season of the show will right a lot of the wrongs in this disappointing debut.
11 Nick Fury - Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD - Played by David Hasselhoff
In 1998, Fox released a ninety minute television movie about the most infamous S.H.I.E.L.D. agent there ever was, Nick Fury. It’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role after so many movies of Samuel L. Jackson playing Fury, but David Hasselhoff was cast to play the super secret spy.
Unfortunately, this was a venture that raised more questions than answers, and is probably best remembered as one of Marvel’s learning experiences. The dialogue stands out as the most dated, alongside Hasselhoff’s performance of the old fashioned hero.
The script consisted of too many gimmicky, back and forth lines about good and evil, mixed with a story line about HYDRA flooding Manhattan with poison gas.
10 Elektra - Daredevil - Played by Elodie Yung
2015’s Daredevil season one brought Marvel into the realm of premium television and cemented a new era for comic book TV shows across the industry. One of the key differences that made this show work was its appeal to the fan base. Daredevil broke ground by giving both hardcore and casual fans something they could enjoy together.
When Elektra came on the show midway through the season fans gave her a chance, but the character wasn’t at all what they were expecting. This time played by Elodie Yung, audiences saw an Elektra with a wooden attitude and detached demeanor, making it hard to follow her character on her battle of good and evil.
In the comics, Elektra is a femme fatale with her own complex set problems, and whose interaction with Matt Murdock readers hate to love. Unfortunately, their dysfunction is the only thing that came across in this version. She’s sure to come back though, hopefully we’ll see a more dynamic Elektra in future.
9 Lockjaw - Inhumans
ABC’s Inhumans, the collection of not-quite mutants who choose to organize themselves in a not-quite Game of Thrones hierarchy, does actually have a few high points.
An example of something the show gets right is depicting the scope of the Inhumans universe. As the show progresses, faint outlines of a super powered family drama begin to take shape. Unfortunately, the Lockjaw portrayal in this show is simply unforgivable. The giant, adorable teleporting dog should have been perfect for the TV adaptation.
The fact that no physical fork is imposed onto his forehead is baffling. The show instead makes due with black colored fur in the shape of the prong. It glows, but it still falls flat. The singular stand out effect, possibly the focal point of the entire franchise was omitted in what looks like, judging by the rest of the show elements, pure sloth.
8 Diamondback - Luke Cage - Played by Erik LaRay Harvey
Exploration of a medium is a good description of what Luke Cage accomplished in its first season. A cool, slow burn of a season explores growing up and getting by on the good and bad sides of the streets of Harlem. The third series in Netlix’s Marvel universe added a lot of depth and threw in a new style of heroics.
The show took one too many chances with the appearance of Diamondback, however. Erik LaRay Harvey, in an homage to Cage’s blacksploitation roots, put out a little too much energy for mainstream audiences.
In one of those experiences that felt like watching an actor in a different show, Diamondback’s introduction felt like he would be a secondary character. Later when he plays a larger role in the show’s ultimate villainy it came out of nowhere and felt a bit manipulative.
7 Skye - Agents of SHIELD - Played by Chloe Bennett
When Agent Phil Coulson became a fan favorite in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it was a shrewd executive who thought to leverage that momentum into a TV show. Fortunately the stars aligned and Joss Whedon’s Agents of SHIELD has just entered its fifth season.
Early in the show’s development, the main protagonist was the mysterious young woman known only as Skye. Chloe Bennett is the actor behind this character that made audiences roll their eyes a little bit. She was a hacker, and then she wasn’t, then she was evil, then good again. Also the subject of several ill fated romantic pairings.
Chloe Bennett is still on the show, but the story has shifted away from her development into Quake to focus more on the workings of the super secret SHIELD.
6 Thor - The Incredible Hulk Returns - Played by Eric Allen Kramer
There are so many great comic book shows, it’s nice to be able to nitpick and criticize and say what they all did wrong. Back in the 1980s, all comic geeks had was Lou Ferrigno and The Incredible Hulk. The same hero that torpedoed two Hollywood movies in the early 2000s, had a series that ran for five seasons and spawned three TV movies.
The first of those TV movies, The Incredible Hulk Returns, came to living rooms in 1988. The story covers the meeting between Bruce Banner and Thor, played by Eric Allen Kramer, then their eventual team up and battle against an ultimate foe, a mobster trying to steal a Gamma Transponder.
Thor’s introduction into the show universe at that time suggests the time was ripe for a Thor television show. Unfortunately, Kramer’s performance and happenstance have still kept us wondering what a live action Thor on television might look like.
5 Mason Eckhart - Mutant X - Played by Tom McCamus
If we really need one more reason to delight in the reunification of Marvel properties, it is the end of experiments like Mutant X. Before Legion and The Gifted, this not-quite X-Men show was an attempt to bring the New Mutants to television without infringing on properties owned by Fox at the time.
The show ran for three seasons and produced 66 episodes, but reviews were always mixed. One of the reasons might have been Mason Eckhart, one of the show’s villains and the latest in a line of politicians trying to regulate Mutants. Played by Tom McCamus, this character never quite generated enough ire to fuel the show’s main conflict.
Considering the company it’s in and the goals it tries to achieve, Mutant X, had a good run and stands as a lesson on ways to bring mutants to the screen. Having full access to the intellectual property and being able to actually call them the X-Men will be a good start.
4 Christian Walker - Powers - Played by Sharlto Copley
Powers, the comic written by Brian Michael Bendis, was a project that was considered for television almost as soon as it was published, but spent a lot of time in turn around. After multiple attempts at a pilot and reshaping the tone of the show, Sony finally premiered the pilot in 2015 on the Playstation Network. Not exactly prime time.
The show only lasted for two seasons, producing twenty episodes. Despite a cast filled with performances by the likes of Eddie Izzard and Michael Madsen, the blame for this one has to go to the main character, Christian Walker, played by Sharlto Copley.
The great thing about the tone of the comic was the intimacy Bendis created between the characters. Unfortunately for this relatively new property, the show had a hard time recreating that chemistry.
3 Harold Meachum - Iron Fist - Played by David Wenham
This list has talked before about the confusion regarding the Iron Fist television show. The third spot on this list goes to another Meachum, the patriarch of the family played by David Wenham.
Harold Meachum, the father of Joy and Ward, and Danny Rand’s only living father figure, is the man who seized the Rand Corporation after Danny’s accident. He immediately comes off as a run of the mill, sleazy corporate narcissist. Wenham alternates between manipulative and out of control pretty well, but the character still lacks cohesion.
Fans of The Lord of the Rings movies know Wenham is a good actor, as he was great as Faramir. The main point here is not to call out the actors individually, but to highlight the overall issues with Iron Fist.
2 Eric Brooks - Blade: The Series - Played by Kirk Jones
In 2006, Blade came to the small screen to continue his legacy. Spike cancelled the show after only one year, but this short lived series is notable for its co-creators, Geoff Johns and David S. Goyer. Johns would go on to take the lead editorial role at DC, while Goyer was on the writing staff for the all of the recent Batman films.
In thirteen episodes, the series tried to rekindle the smooth vampire creep factor we got from the movies but Blade himself, played by Kirk Jones, didn’t quite bring what Wesley Snipes could to the performance.
The Spike network should shoulder some of the blame for the failure of the show as well, hopefully this is the perfect time to resurrect the franchise and bring Blade back into the fold.
1 Morgan Le Fay - Doctor Strange (1978) - Played by Jessica Walter
CBS’s made for tv movie, Dr. Strange, could have evolved into a television show had circumstances gone a little differently. In two hours, the project sets up the origin story of Stephen Strange as he’s pushed to become the next Sorcerer Supreme to defeat the evil Morgan LeFay.
This is where Jessica Walter, who would later go on to play Lucille on Arrested Development, comes in. Her performance as the evil sorceress cements the show’s campy direction. While she wasn’t the sole reason this show didn’t enter serial development, Walter and Peter Hooten have to shoulder the responsibility for ruining yet another opportunity to deliver these shows to a market that yearns for them.
Superheroes succeed when average fans can relate to the characters and place themselves in those extraordinary circumstances. In 1978, Dr. Strange is the earliest example on this list of production companies trying to recreate that magic on screen. Forty years later, Marvel is finally starting to figure it out.
Did another actor ruin one of your favorite Marvel heroes? Let us know in the comments!
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