The choice of who you cast in your superhero flick can have huge consequences, both positive and negative.
When Disney cast Brie Larson for “Captain Marvel,” fans who disliked the actress review-bombed the movie on Rotten Tomatoes until it had an artificially low percentage. This was a factor that led to Rotten Tomatoes changing its review system entirely.
Clearly, casting decisions can have a huge impact. That said, which choices were the best? Which actors transcended the screen, and truly became their characters?
Let’s find out!
10 best movie superhero casting choices
10. Ian McKellen as Magneto
As far as comic book villains go, you’d be hard pressed to find a better-written villain than Magneto.
The Nazis put him in a concentration camp after killing his family for being Jewish. After this, Magneto realizes that he must fight back against those who challenge his very existence. Lo and behold, Magneto is a mutant, and there are also people who want him dead because of that.
Ian McKellen captures both his tragedy and motivations perfectly. Also, when showing off his abilities, he does so with such a quiet power. You just have this feeling that he could wipe out an entire building with a flick of his wrist.
McKellen’s final scene as Magneto happens toward the end of “X-Men: Days of Future Past.” In the scene, the last hope for the mutant race is about to be extinguished. Before recent events, Magneto fought against the X-Men as he believed that a future war was coming. Professor X didn’t deny this, but he believed in pursuing peace.
It turns out, both of them were right. However, Magneto realizes that it was his fault that mutants couldn’t come together to find peace with humans.
McKellan makes the character both powerful and tragic. That’s all we could have asked for our favorite master of magnetism.
9. Michael B. Jordan as Killmonger
When it comes to the MCU, villains typically aren’t considered the strong point of the films. Sure, actors like Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Hemsworth can really carry the film as the main hero, but their villains just pale in comparison. Can you even give the names of the villains in all three Iron Man movies?
Michael B. Jordan’s performance as Killmonger in “Black Panther” was what really broke the mold for a lot of fans. He commands the screen in all of his scenes.
Let’s look at the scene where he reveals to the king’s counsel that he is Wakandan, and he is challenging the throne:
He approaches the situation calmly at first by allowing himself to be taken in as a prisoner. He lets T’Challa make the first move to help dictate how the situation will unfold. However, once he is asked who he is, he reveals that he is Wakandan, by speaking it in isiXhosa, an actual language spoken in Africa.
Once everyone believes him, all the balls are in his court. T’Challa has to accept his challenge in order to abide by traditions. He also compromised T’Challa’s leadership by stating that T’Challa’s father, King T’Chaka, killed Killmonger’s father.
To be fair, one of the things that makes Jordan’s performance so poignant is the phenomenal writing. This line perfect:
Jordan commanded the screen as Killmonger so well, that we actually kinda wish he would’ve ended up on Wakanda’s throne.
8. Josh Brolin as Thanos
Wow, three villains in a row!
Josh Brolin did not have an easy task ahead of him when he agreed to play the mad Titan Thanos. He had to somehow capture all the hype leading up to a character we had been waiting to see for more than five years.
He not only nailed it, but “movie Thanos” was better than “comic book Thanos.”
Yeah, yeah, yeah. that was a pretty bold statement, but let’s take a look at the comics. There, Thanos wanted to gather the Infinity Stones so that he could woo the female embodiment of death.
Seriously, we’re not kidding.
Sure, Thanos’s motivations in “Avengers: Infinity War” are not pure, but they are stronger than what we were given in the comics.
Brolin was menacing, well-written, and well-performed. There were so many movies leading up to his arrival, and yet Brolin was able to make the wait worthwhile. And he’s a completely digital creation!
Hopefully, Marvel will showcase a great new villain in the MCU now that he’s gone. If not, fans will be at the theaters shouting, “Bring us Thanos!”
7. Michael Keaton as Batman
In major Hollywood Batman films, we’ve had Adam West, Christian Bale, Val Kilmer, George Clooney, Ben Affleck, and, of course, Michael Keaton don the cape and cowl. With so many different Batman (Batmans? Batmen?) to choose from, what makes Keaton come out as the best?
The answer is simple, Keaton was able to be a good Bruce Wayne AND a good Batman.
Sure, other actors who have played the bat have done well. Christian Bale was a menacing Batman, but he was a forgettable Bruce Wayne. Also, don’t even get us started on his voice:
Adam West is the OG Batman for a lot of people, but he lacked the dark and ominous feel the character is known for having.
Keaton’s performances in “Batman” and “Batman Returns” were coupled with great writing from Tim Burton. Pair Keaton’s performance with other great villains like Joker and Penguin, and you have something special.
6. Patrick Stewart as Professor X
Patrick Stewart had a difficult task ahead of him when he chose to play Professor Charles Xavier. He had to take the character from humble beginnings as a teacher and leader of the X-Men, to a freedom fighter trying to save the mutant race, to a frail old man seeking redemption.
Despite the varying quality of the X-Men movies, Patrick Stewart was consistently one of the best parts. Each word out of his mouth is filled with hints of both his experience and his pain.
In “Logan,” Xavier is battling dementia and is in recovery after he caused the death of nearly every one of the X-Men. After discovering a child with mutant powers that needs his help, Xavier begins a journey toward redemption.
The story gives a tragic, yet fitting conclusion to Xavier’s journey. That journey would have felt far less fulfilling if not for the work of Patrick Stewart.
5. Christopher Reeve as Superman
Superman is not an easy character to play.
Most superheroes have to overcome overwhelming odds and break their limits in order to save the day, but not Superman. Superman has no limits and instead needs to figure out how to be a god living amongst men.
For this reason, it is often hard for fans to relate to the Man of Steel. However, Christopher Reeve absolutely nailed the character.
Reeve’s Superman is both strengthened and incapacitated by his human upbringing. His Kryptonian biology might make him the strongest being in the universe, but his humanity is what makes him use his powers for good.
In “Superman II,” Supes decides to give up his powers in order to pursue a life with Lois Lane. Despite the fact that others dream of having abilities like his, Supes makes the selfish decision to abandon what can keep the world safe in order to be “normal.”
True, he does end up restoring his powers so he can duke it out with General Zod (complete with him throwing a random cellophane S).
What made Reeve a great Superman was his ability to get us to identify with an unidentifiable character. Superman constantly walked the line between what is good for others and what is good for him.
Sure, none of us can move faster than a speeding bullet, or be more powerful than a locomotive. However, throwing aside what makes us unique for the chance to be normal is something we can all understand. For that, we have Reeve to thank.
4. Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man
First, let’s do introductions:
Robert Downey Jr. was a very risky pick to play Tony Stark. His battle with addiction made him far from a slam dunk choice, and failure meant that the MCU simply wouldn’t happen.
Luckily, Robert Downey Jr. blew expectations out of the water. If you’ve ever read an Avengers or Iron Man comic book, you probably have a decent grasp of what kind of person Tony Stark is. He’s both cocky and arrogant, but he does have a very blunt view of justice (for better or worse).
Basically, if Stark believes something is right, it’s very difficult to prove him wrong.
That scene took place right after Stark created Ultron. Even after creating what is essentially an AI-powered weapon of mass destruction, he still defends his motives and the need to create it.
This scene made people hate Stark. Nobody could believe that he would still defend his actions after creating such an evil force. Here’s the thing though: that’s exactly who Iron Man is.
Even when faced with the reality of his actions, Stark rejects that reality for his own. Guess what else? He was right!
The world did need more protection, and it did need a suit of armor. Thanos made sure of that. Although the Avengers did defeat Thanos, Stark was right in assuming the team would not be enough.
You can poke holes in MCU movies and in the Iron Man movies until the cows come home. However, at the end of the day, RDJ was right, he IS Iron Man.
3. Heath Ledger as Joker
Nope, Heath Ledger didn’t get our #1 spot.
Sure Jack Nicholson gave us a pretty unbelievable Joker. However, Heath Ledger blew Nicholson out of the water with just one chilling scene from “The Dark Knight“:
Despite what many people think, Joker is actually a very versatile character. Sure, at his core he’s a criminal who dresses up as a clown, but he can be portrayed in many different ways.
Nicholson’s approach was to make Joker act more like a gangster. Cesar Romero made Joker focus more on the clown antics and gags. Jared Leto… did whatever this was:
However, nobody even came close to match Ledger’s madness and sense of anarchy. Throughout the movie, Ledger is two steps ahead of the mob, the police, Batman, and even the audience. There is simply no reasoning behind his actions other than the fact he wants to cause chaos.
He blows up a hospital and almost gets himself killed just for a chance to make Harvey Dent turn on Gotham.
Look, we can talk about Ledger’s Oscar-winning performance all day, and show you clips from the movie, and it still might not convince you. For a last-ditch effort, we’ll try a magic trick:
2. Hugh Jackman as Wolverine
Hugh Jackman played Wolverine in nine different X-Men movies. However, he only needed to be in one to cement himself as Wolverine for all eternity.
From the start, Jackman gave us exactly what we wanted Wolverine to be. He was tough but only had the best intentions. He was strong but also weakened by his unstable mentality. He was tragic but always triumphant.
He was Logan.
Sure, Jackman was able to be an incredible action star when portraying Wolverine, but he was also able to bring some real drama to the character.
Down the road, we are probably going to get a new incarnation for most of the characters we have already named. Heck, we already know about the next Batman.
However, there is nobody else who can become Wolverine like Hugh Jackman.
At this point, you are probably wondering, “Who could possibly have the #1 spot?”
Sure, we named off some incredible talent up until now. However, the next entry was someone so good that not only does he represent one of the best parts of the movie(s), but his character has never been recast since.
1. J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson
Since Tobey Maguire first put on the Spidey suit in 2002, we have had three different live-action Spider-Man, two different Gwen Stacy, three different MJ‘s, two different Harry and Norman Osborns, three different Aunt May, and two different Uncle Ben.
However, we have only had one man and one man only play J. Jonah Jameson, and for good reason.
J.K. Simmons feels like he was ripped right from the pages of the comic books. He’s hammy, he’s over-the-top, but he’s a true comic book character.
Walk over to a comic book store, and find the shelf with all the Spider-Man comics. Throw a rock at the shelf, and read whatever issue it hit. No matter what, you will see that J.K. Simmons’s portrayal was 100% spot on to the comics.
He commands the screen in every scene he’s in. He’s a miserable jerk, but you can’t help but smile every time he opens his mouth. They could have taken out an entire action sequence from one of the movies and replaced it with more J. Jonah Jameson and nobody would have complained.
You can disagree with us all you want. However, before you go throwing this list out the window, answer this one question, “Who else could have played him better?”
Yes, it hurt us not to include Ron Perlman’s performance as Hellboy.
Perlman captured the character perfectly, giving us the perfect comic book adaptation. Unfortunately, there were just 10 choices that were better.
We still love you, Ron.
Whether or not you agree with our list entirely, you can’t help but admit that these were all some stellar performances.
At the end of the day, there have been so many other great performances in superhero movies. Emma Stone was the first actress who truly was able to give Gwen Stacy the justice she deserved. Gene Hackman was the only good movie villain Superman has ever had. Chris Hemsworth gave the god of thunder the charisma and character he desperately needed.
We’re in an age where comic book movies are being taken seriously, and aren’t just popcorn thrillers for the summer. These performances are what got them to this level.
Let us know in the comments below who you think should have made the list!