Right now is an incredible time to be a comic book fan. New movies and TV shows keep coming out all the time, the quality of comics (in general) has now completely recovered from the disaster of the 1990’s and based on the success of the movies, being a nerd is much easier now.
My local mall now has a comic book shop in it that is over 1000 square feet and it is always packed. I see girls in there regularly. Imagine this occurring in 2004. Wouldn't happen. Also the media has drastically increased the popularity of the characters and for uber-nerds like myself, finding cool merch has never been easier, the shelves are just flooding with new stuff all the time.
One big reason, why it took so long to get to a nerd-friendly time is the quality of the movies (where the largest mainstream reach is) was bad for a long time. When comic book properties first started being made, it was obvious studios just wanted to rush them onto the big screen for an easy buck and several were just atrocious. The fantastic four series, Daredevil, the first few Punisher movies, a direct to DVD version of the Man-Thing, and Superman Returns all hit the populace at large wondering how nerds loved this stuff so much and also left nerds disappointed on a regular basis.
Two large events can be credited with the turnaround: Marvel Studios launch and the culmination of the Avengers project and the Nolan Batman trilogy. Those two things created movies that were not only pleasing their intended fan base but were executed well enough to reach the general movie going populace.
Today, I will be analyzing the actors that have helped the cause. Breaking down and ranking the:
Top Ten Marvel Comics casting choices
Please note the word “Marvel” above, Ledger isn't here because I don’t care about DC Comics.
Just missing the cut: Michael Chiklis as the Thing, Hugo Weaving as the Red Skull, William Dafoe as Norman Osborn, and Alfred Molina as Doctor Octopus
10. Chris Evans (Human Torch)
Chris Evans at this point is significantly more well known for his role as Captain America, which he has done okay with, but one reason that comic fans were so resistant of this casting when announced was not because he had already played a different character in the Marvel cinematic universe, but that he had done such a great job playing a character that is so opposite what Cap is. Don’t get me wrong, I hate these movies, and I hate the Human Torch. However, I hate the Human Torch because he is exactly the character that Evans perfectly plays in these films.
9. Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury (All Marvel Studios Movies)
Samuel Jackson could probably be a little higher on this list but based on the fact that he has never been even one of the top three most important characters in any of the movies he’s in, you could also argue he doesn’t belong on the list at all. For fans of the classic comics who first saw him, it probably seemed horrible, I remember the first time that I saw Daredevil and for the life of me didn’t understand why they had cast the Kingpin as a black man. There have been a lot of controversies over the years about comic fans getting riled up over the race of the actors cast, but this is not because they’re racist, it’s because nerds are sticklers for details and do not like to see them changed for the big screen. However, this role is not one of those cases. In the early 2000’s Marvel launched a new line of comics known as “ultimate comics.” These were recreations of classic characters but told in a different universe so that they could start all over and modernize some classic stories for a new generation. When they did so, the change was made to Nick Fury to appear like this:
Since the plan for the Avengers movie was to follow the "Ultimates" story, there could not have been a more spot-on choice to play Nick Fury.
8. Ian McKellen as Magneto (The X-Men Trilogy)
Magneto is a villain that has incredible depth to him and takes a special actor to pull off correctly. McKellan is obviously that actor. Magneto is undoubtedly a antagonist to the X-Men but many would argue he is not a true villain, because he does not fight for his gain, he fights for a cause. The cause being the freedom of his “race.” McKellan does a phenomenal job of showing you the wear of his past in his current character to seem a sympatric yet despicable character in any given moment. Additionally, he has that look that Magneto should just have. I feared when the movies were announced that a younger man would be cast for the sake of more believable action but McKellan’s casting not only is well executed but stays true to the source material.
7. Brian Cox as William Stryker (X2)
The early X-Men movies had a lot working for them in regards to excellent casting. For me, William Stryker is probably the second best villain to ever appear in a Marvel movie. Cox brings so much to the role. One frequent mistake made by actors playing a villain is that they can’t truly commit to the role. A villain has to believe in his cause and be able to convey that. This is the reason why villains like Dr. Doom and Venom were so hated on the big screen, the actors did not seem to believe their own cause. Stryker does and every word he speaks oozes with mutant hatred. He is so sleazy and yet so justified at the same time. When a powerless villain is stealing the spotlight in a cast of superpowered heroes, then something is going very right, and Cox is the main reason that until very recently X2 was my favorite comic movie ever.
6. Chris Hemsworth as Thor (Thor, The Avengers)
Thor is a very tricky part to cast, and to be honest, I never had hope these movies could be any good. Thor in the comics is a pretty hokey character and brining Norse mythology into the mainstream Marvel Universe, never really seemed like it could be done well in a cinematic environment. Seeing Thor was about the happiest I have ever been to be wrong. Hemsworth, and his supporting cast do a wonderful job of making the story work. Hemsworth in particular does a great job of playing the arrogant god that grows to love and cherish the human race despite himself, while still clinging to that arrogant streak that lands him on earth in the first place. Additionally, if we are going off looks alone, Hemsworth was the best choice there would ever be for the part. Casting someone to play Thor that can look a believable level of totally jacked without looking a nasty level of roided up at the same time was never going to be easy. Hemsworth was the best of a small pool that could ever hope to look the part, we were just lucky that he navigated the acting well too.
5. Patrick Stewart as Charles Xavier (X-Men trilogy)
The moment Patrick Stewart was cast as Professor X, it actually became irrelevant what kind of performance he actually had. Every fanboy knew as soon as the announcement came through they would be happy even if Stewart walked half-heartedly through the whole thing. He had the look of Professor X, he was perfect there, and everyone knew it. He is one of the greatest actors of his generation and has proved this across multiple mediums, so whether the actually performance would be great was never really in doubt. Finally, he already had fanboy cred. A nice, long run on Start Trek let all of the fanboys know he could be trusted with their little movie. A Stewart, as always delivered. Professor X is not a superhero, he is a teacher with superpowers, and that is what he plated and perfectly. Never rushing out on the mission but always ready to command as needed to start a mission and even better at being the patient mentor in one on one interactions with all of the X-Men.
4. Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner (Avengers)
The journey of the Hulk on the big screen has been unpleasant one but it has a great destination at least. The debut of Hulk on the big screen was played by Eric Bana and was a disaster on almost all levels. The next was Edward Norton, an actor that loved the Hulk character and strongly lobbied for the part long before it was awarded to him, given Norton’s resume and abilities it seemed a sure home run. It wasn’t. Norton did a fine job but it was nothing up to the standard his fans have grown to expect. Ruffalo’s casting came out of nowhere and most fans honestly had no idea what to expect out of him. He was absolutely brilliant in the role and brought something that Norton had ignored: confidence. Ruffalo showed the brilliance of Banner and was able to understand the advantages of the Hulk and displayed that he knew how to use it throughout the film, while also showing all the quirks that make Banner the opposite of the monster in him. Ruffalo gives the best performance I have ever seen in a Marvel movie and the only reason that is not number one is that he has only worked in a single movie and not in a single starring role. Time may show Ruffalo deserves to be on top of the list.
3. Hugh Jackman as Wolverine (X-Men trilogy, Wolverine)
It’s easy to see why people were so upset with the third X-Men movie, the first two were far and away the first two great comic movies of the modern era, Jackman is the fourth actor on the list from these movies. Regardless of the script of the third, Jackman shines bright in all four movies where he has played the part. Unlike most of the other casting choices on the list, Jackman was not an obvious choice. Most of his roles previous were in romantic films or musicals, he was the polar opposite of the action star most expected. Once in the role though, I don’t think anyone can say he did not excel. He was a bad-ass, he was cold, snippy, ruthless, and sensitive in all the ways Wolverine is known in the comics and he looks the part. Pulling off this part is much harder to pull off than most comic roles based on the sheer amount of material that has been out there for one of Marvel’s flagship characters that so many layers have been created for him. The fact that he is about to release his fifth film in the role and has yet to deliver a poor one is always quite impressive.
2.Tom Hiddleston as Loki (Thor, The Avengers)
Hiddleston, as Loki, is without a doubt the greatest on-screen villain that Marvel has yet to produce. He is brilliant in the role and displays every level of the character perfectly. From the beloved brother of Thor, to the envious cast out, to the rebel that refuses to accept that is still beloved by his family, to the heavy-hearted traitor to his family, to a would be conqueror, to the spoiled child that knows he can’t win but simply wants the respect he feels is warranted. The best part is that you can watch the “trickster” grow in him throughout the films and you can never tell exactly what he is thinking, only that it is more dangerous than those around him suspect. Hiddleston is the gold standard of Marvel villains and I hope we see a lot more of him in the future.
1. Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark (Iron Man trilogy and The Avengers)
Without a doubt, Downey is Iron Man. Over the course of the four movies he has appeared in so far, there has never been a moment where you felt anyone else could do the part justice. Stark is an over the top business yuppie whose ego knows no bounds and has a beautiful knack for improvising one-liners that can make a movie. Iron Man started the Marvel Studios project that built to the Avengers. Without it’s success, and arguably Downey, then the Avengers may never have happened. Downey doesn't play Iron Man, he is him, and he is flawless in the process.