While anti-hero Frank Castle might be the most prolific killer in the Marvel Universe, he has not had the best record of killing it outside the comics. Just consider for a moment that none of his feature films have ranked higher than 30% on Rotten Tomatoes. Not only that, but his last big screen reboot is the lowest-grossing Marvel film of all-time, performing even worse at the box office than Howard the Duck. Now that’s just sad.
Of course the Punisher can’t be blamed for all of it. Adapting such a ruthless and uncompromisingly violent character isn’t easy. However, it can be done, as Netflix’s revival of The Punisher stands testament.
Hopefully, as a result of this new found popularity, we will be seeing a whole lot more of Frank in the future, which is great news for fans and probably horrible news for censors. Until then, let’s take a look at all this vigilante has had to offer.
Here is Every Version Of The Punisher, Ranked Worst To Best.
15. The Punisher: No Mercy
There really isn’t much of a reason for The Punisher: No Mercy to exist. Released in 2009 exclusively in the Playstation store, the game cared more about attracting multiplaying online than paying homage to Frank Castle.
Slap any other name on this first-person shooter and you’d be left with the same result — a boring, frustrating and all around unentertaining experience.
As a first-person shooter No Mercy is a pretty generic outing leaving one better off playing other far better games in the genre. As a Punisher adaptation it is entirely a letdown, and it seems even Marvel thought it needed to go as they let its licensing run out and eventually saw it pulled from the PSN store entirely.
14. Spider-Man: The Animated Series (John Beck)
Nobody wants a watered down version of the Punisher– except for maybe overbearing parents concerned with sanctity of their children’s young impressionable minds, but what they know?
Spider-Man: The Animated Series was a fantastic adaptation of the comic books, but being targeted for kids meant that it had to tragically censor Frank Castle’s more violent tendencies. What remained was a dude in a trenchoat using non-lethal weapons like net launchers (!?) to dole out vigilante justice. Lame.
Spider-Man and Punisher go way back, with the latter making his debut in The Amazing Spider-Man #129. In that issue, Castle mistakes the webslinger for a criminal, which pretty much is the same premise that fuels his three appearances on the cartoon only with a lot less substance.
Sadly, watching the Punisher (who was voiced by John Beck) act like a buffoon trying to hunt down Peter Parker while glossing over his more nuanced motivations did little for the character’s cartoon cred.
13. The Tick (Kevin Schon)
Though not technically a direct adaptation, seeing The Tick’s parody of the Punisher in the guise of Big Shot is enjoyable none the less. First appearing in the comics, Big Shot was a gun toting maniac obsessed with killing who attends a violence addicts anonymous group and eventually finds a new lease on life as a wedding photographer.
His appearance on the popular animated series (voiced by Kevin Schon) only added to the fun when he showed up in the series’ first episode firing indiscriminately on nearby structures, reducing them to skull-shaped sculptures.
Unfortunately, as a result he runs out of ammo, and when he finds himself called upon to help save the day, he instead runs away crying and shouting, “Why didn’t you love me Mom?”
12. Iron Man: Rise of Technovore (Norman Reedus)
This is entirely a story about Iron Man getting his Gundam on with the Punisher shoehorned in for a fleeting few minutes for no reason in particular other than because they can. That said, Frank Castle’s brief appearance in Iron Man: Rise of Technovore is probably the best thing going for this direct-to-video release.
When Iron Man gets framed for the apparent death of War Machine, he teams up with Frank Castle to gain redemption and go after the guys responsible. Voiced by The Walking Dead‘s Norman Reedus, this version of the Punisher shines when he systemically takes out a group of techno terrorists, then pretty much does nothing else.
Despite distractedly sounding too much like Daryl Dixon, watching anime Castle toughen things up makes you wish this was a film entirely about him.
Though, to give you an idea of just how tough Reedus’ adaptation actually is, Jon Bernthal doesn’t skip a beat in (rightfully) claiming that his TWD co-star’s Punisher would get destroyed in a fight against his own.
11. The Punisher (Dolph Lundgren)
When you think Frank Castle who doesn’t picture him as a six and half foot blond-haired, blue-haired Swedish man? Answer: no one. Which is why casting Dolph Lundgren (aka Drago from Rocky IV) in the character’s first live-action film was so absurd– especially when you consider the Punisher’s real name is Frank Castiglione and he was born in Queens, New York.
Impressively, Lundgren does transform his look enough to make for a passable Castle, but the similarities end with his dyed hair. Overall the film and its lead deviate too far from its source material, even going so far as to blasphemously exclude the classic trademark skull insignia entirely.
While this nondescript vigilante-out-for-revenge movie may seem awesome in the blurry fog of ’80s nostalgia, it falls very short of a noteworthy adaptation.
Though, if we’re being fair, 1989’s The Punisher really isn’t about the Punisher at all. It’s about Lundgren losing miserably to Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone for the crown of best ’80s action star.
10. Avengers Confidential: Black Widow & Punisher (Brian Bloom)
Abenjāzu Konfidensharu: Burakku Widō & Panisshā (that’s right, Punisher is pronounced Panisshā in Japanese) is a direct-to-video anime featuring Frank Castle and the Black Widow teaming up to fight terrorists.
While these two working together might seem odd at first, it kinda of makes a lot of sense and has the potential for some interesting dynamics. Unfortunately, this film does little with it.
Created by Japanese animation studio Madhouse in partnership with Marvel, the anime (translated as Avengers Confidential: Black Widow & Punisher), however, does shine in one area — making the Punisher look awesome. Also, making his eyes glow a lot.
Despite it’s PG-13 rating, the film still manages to maintain the Punisher’s brutality thanks to some artful editing. As far as animated Punisher’s go, this one’s not too shabby with some spot-on voice acting/dubbing from Brian Bloom.
9. The Punisher (Thomas Jane)
If you’re looking for a Punisher to invite over to your next card game and share a few brewskis with, then Thomas Jane’s Punisher in the 2004 film is your guy. There’s really nothing not to like about him, which is the problem. Overall, Jane feels here more like he’s playing someone who wants to be the Punisher than actually being the Punisher.
An alternate take on the character’s origin story, 2004’s The Punisher shows what would happen if Frank Castle’s family were killed by John Travolta. A terrifying thought for sure, though what follows was not surprisingly as nonsensical, absurd and comical as to be expected.
8. The Super Hero Squad Show (Ray Stevenson)
Other than being a blatant ploy to sell action figures, Marvel’s Super Hero Squad cartoon series was a self-aware parody of the entire Marvelerse. Equally as silly as it was stupid, the show wasn’t really too much concerned with accuracy so much as it was being as cartoonish as possible However, they did get one thing right — the terrifyingly intense craziness of Frank Castle.
In his one and only appearance during the episode “Night in the Sanctorum!”, the squad find themselves hitching a ride in the Battle Van as the Punisher goes on a lengthy, albeit entirely delightful, rant about his hatred of both crime and brussel sprouts.
7. Marvel Superheroes: What the—?!
A Robot Chicken-esque stop-motion animated Marvel Super Heroes: What The—?! web series has all the makings of a great parody. By all measures, watching an action figure Punisher kill other action figures should be amazing.
Unfortunately, his first appearance on the show in Deadpool vs. The Punisher doles out nothing but wasted potential, given its delightful premise of pitting Castle against the Merc with a Mouth.
Luckily, in the follow-up Daredevil vs. Punisher it all comes together. Everyone’s favorite lawyer by day man without fear by night, Daredevil, is interviewing for a new assistant at his firm. Naturally Frank Castle applies and is immediately sent out to investigate a case of shoplifting which ends in a lot of people getting hurt.
In a breezy four minutes, this webisode touches on everything that makes Castle such a popular anti-hero while simultaneously mocking his over-the-top characterization and absurd love of punishing things.
6. The Punisher 2005 Video Game (Thomas Jane)
Impressively, actor Thomas Jane has starred as Frank Castle in three entirely separate adaptations of the character. The Punisher video game, released in 2005, though not his best, was definitely a step up from his days of fighting John Travolta, and certainly more than made up for his previous outings lack of brutality.
It may look a little dated now, but the game sold over a million copies, boasts as enjoyable a gameplay as ever and stands on its own as an immersive story sure to please any fan. As a bonus, it lets you hit people with a shark.
At the time reviews were mixed, a lot of which had to do with the game’s controversial violence. Rated “Adults Only” on account of extremely gruesome scenes of torture, one reviewer was left to write, “the new Punisher game makes the Grand Theft Auto series look like Super Mario Kart.” If anything, that just give it more credibility as a worthy adaptation.
5. Punisher: War Zone (Ray Stevenson)
Ray Stevenson had the terrible misfortune of playing Frank Castle in Punisher: War Zone. Plagued with issues behind the scenes and even worse issues on-screen, the film is revered as one of the worst superhero adaptations of all-time, and as a result ruined the character in Hollywood forever.
However, over the years the 2008 film has amassed a bit of a cult following, thanks in no small part to Stevenson’s edgy, violence-ridden performance, which for many fans felt like the first faithful adaptation of the comic character. All bad writing aside, we have to agree.
By authentically capturing the unbridled killing machine that is the Punisher not to mention his epic face frowns, this film goes where few other adaptations dare even hint at.
For his part, Stevenson has said, “I don’t want people to leave the theater wanting to be Frank Castle. I want them to be glad he is there.” So, in terms of crafting an unsympathetic character that no one likes and putting him in a film that pretty much everyone hates, Ray Stevenson’s version of the Punisher is a huge success.
4. Do Not Fall in New York City
Sometimes fan made superhero movies do more in the way of creatively adapting the comics then their big blockbuster counterparts ever come close to. While animator Luis Pelayo Junquera’s take in Do Not Fall in New York City might not have the big scale action or refined look of other iterations, it does a commendable job of tackling the dark, psychological side of the character like few others.
Inspired by a poignant story from Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon run, whose work is often cited as the best in the character’s history, the seven and half minute short deals with Frank going after a troubled soldier who he befriended during Vietnam.
With a captivating mix of animation styles and a freedom for storytelling not allowed by studio produced mega-projects, Do Not Fall in New York City is requisite viewing for any fan of the comics. For many it ranks as a worthy entry in the Punisher’s best cinematic achievements.
3. The Punisher Arcade Game
Often cited as not only the best in the beat ’em up genre, 1993’s The Punisher is considered one of the best video game adaptations of all-time.
Released by Capcom this arcade game follows the classic brawler formula of pitting up one or two protagonists in hand-to-hand combat against an improbably large number of opponents. (Remember Double Dragon, Battletoads and Turtles in Time? Kind of like that only with a lot more guns.)
The story, which is unusually well thought out for these type of games, features Punisher teaming up with Nick Fury (as the playable second character) as they embark on a mission to kill Kingpin and bring down his criminal organization. The graphics are some of the best of the genre and their dark, somber tone do the source material justice.
2. Dirty Laundry (Thomas Jane)
While Thomas Jane’s performance in 2004’s The Punisher was too affable for its own good, he definitely hit the mark when he unofficially reprised the role in 2012’s short film Punisher: Dirty Laundry. Jane is more of a comic fan than one would expect, having started his own entertainment company, RAW Studios, to release comic books that he writes.
Under the same umbrella, he independently financed Dirty Laundry, calling upon some of his friends in the industry including Ron Perlman, to make what he called, “a love letter to Frank Castle and his fans.”
Acting as a pseudo-sequel, it is hard to view the film as anything other than a standalone effort hinting at what could have been had the actor been given free reign. As it stands Dirty Laundry is one of the best fan made superhero films ever made, and for its part, Jane’s performance in it helped inspire Jon Bernthal’s more hardened version of the character.
1. Netflix’s The Punisher (Jon Bernthal)
Jon Bernthal has simultaneously brought a complexity, brutality, likability, dislikability, and terrifying aspect never before seen with the Punisher on screen. Watching Netflix’s adaptation of the character one really gets a feeling for all his different shades of awesome.
While Bernthal may bring a certain amount of raw thuggishness not normally associated with Castle, he definitely owns the part like no other actor, animation or Lundgren before him.
Impressively, watching Netflix’s The Punisher you find yourself wishing you could be friends with Frank, despite knowing that he’s a mercilessly violent psychopath who might just tear your face off at any moment. In that sense, this Punisher perfectly captures the essence of the character, revealing his tortured soul and the fine line his vigilantism walks between right and wrong.
Of course character development is all well and good, but watching a bloodlusting Punisher tear his way through a prison block like a mad man is just downright cool– and isn’t that what the Punisher is all about?
What is your favorite adaptation of The Punisher? Tell us in the comments!
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