Finding actors to play superheroes is one very interesting process. Many of these characters have been around for over half a century and they are iconic images in American culture: Peter Parker’s disheveled nerdiness, Steve Roger’s physique and golden hair, Elektra’s accent. Well, they can’t all be home-runs. Over the last ten years, there have been almost as many missteps as there are triumphs in finding just the right person to embody characters that sometimes defy reality. These are the ten best cast actors and the characters they brought to life.
10. Michael Fassbender as Magneto
X-Men: First Class was nowhere near perfect. Its biggest flaw is that the film could not top its first act, featuring the fury of Fassbender’s young Magneto. As reboots and recasting become common practice, we should look at X-Men: First Class as a prime example of how good casting can re-energize an old property.
9. Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury
While the Nick Fury teaser at the end of Iron Man is monumental in its own right, the casting of Sam Jackson is just as important. Here is a major actor playing a character that shows up in only a handful of scenes between a few movies all under the auspices that he will be an essential part of a movie yet to come. It’s a gutsy investment and personifies the entire Avengers Initiative. More important is the actual choosing of Sam Jackson. The character Nick Fury has been drawn with Jackson’s likeness long before he was cast in the role. This is the kind of literal interpretation in superhero films we like to see.
8. Chris Evans in everything
Because the guy looks like a goddamn super hero! Be it Fantastic Four, Captain America, The Losers, or Scott Pilgrim, this guy was born to play cocksure characters in tight shirts. “But doesn’t he just play himself?” Maybe. But don’t all movie stars basically portray themselves? Julia is always Julia. Clooney is always Clooney. Chris Evans has created the same type of persona we see in other major stars, however his has been tailored to play super heroes. Isn’t it fitting that one of the biggest stars to emerge this decade has done so almost entirely through comic-based films.
7. Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach
Zack Snyder pulled a Tarantino by dragging out a child star from the 70s to lead his would-be opus, Watchmen. In a film that lacks sizzle, it’s simply inspired. Very easily we could have had Simon Pegg in that role and when Rorschach is unmasked we would have had an angry Simon Pegg growling at the camera. Instead, the unmasked Rorschach revealed an actor we haven’t seen in twenty years who has aged like fine tuna salad. It’s frightening.
6. Michael Chiklis as Thing
Here’s a predicament you don’t get often. The silly, downright childish adaptation of the Fantastic Four was a real letdown in almost every regard, except for the absolute spot-on casting of Michael Chiklis as Thing. Though Chiklis’ performance itself veered towards the hammy too often, there are moments where the actor isn’t trying so damn hard to be funny, when he simply “is” that just make your jaw drop. Chris Evans suffered the same fate in his characterization of Johnny Storm, but while anybody could have played the Human Torch only Michael Chiklis could pull off Thing.
5. Michael Caine as Alfred
Alan Napier played him bumbling but courteous. Michael Gough played him as the stuffy personal assistant. It took Michael Caine to play Alfred Pennyworth as an essential part of the Batman mythos. It’s hard to imagine this Batman without his cautious but guiding sidekick. As Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight saga comes to its conclusion and we face inevitable reboot, we must wonder: could they ever stick Alfred back in a silly tuxedo after Michael Caine?
4. J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson
Now that we are in the first reboot of Spider-Man, eventually we will have to recast the role of Daily Bugle chief J. Jonah Jameson, so who do we cast?
J.K. Simmons is perfection. Jameson is neither the hero nor the villain in his three Spider-Man films but brings so much in terms of atmosphere. This performance has shown how important these secondary characters can be when cast well.
3. Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark
His is the face that launched a thousand ships… or rather five movies leading to one big opus. Not enough credit can be given to Robert Downy Jr. the literal face of the Marvel franchise. What Hugh Jackman was to X-Men and Tobey Maguire was to Spider-Man, Robert Downey Jr. is to this great new age of Marvel properties.
2. Ron Perlman as Hellboy
If the rule for great casting is that no other actor could have brought this character to life, then Ron Perlman’s Hellboy is the standard. Perlman was 54 when he was cast as the gruff, red demon. More so, he in no way was a “big name star” who could have been used to market a film based on a fairly obscure comic book. Casting Perlman allowed filmmakers to get the performance they wanted and make the character the face of the film.
1. Heath Ledger as Joker
For more than half a century, writers and artists and actors have taken Batman’s greatest villain and put their own sinister spin on him. Heath Ledger showed up and gave us something entirely new–prestige. Suddenly, this new cinematic Joker walks within the same pantheon as Hannibal Lecter and Norman Bates. No actor can dismiss comic book films as mere child’s play.
Heath Ledger died before The Dark Knight press tour; so reporters never had the chance to ask him exactly what went into his interpretation of Joker. It will always go down as an eerie secret.
Check back tomorrow for Earth’s Mightiest Decade — Part 3