We often think casting the perfect film is a rare achievement that only the top echelon filmmakers accomplish. Yet it can happen to any director at any time. It can happen as a mere fluke, relying on absolute unknowns, or by someone involved in the process just believing beyond a doubt that this actor can do the role. And while it is a massive achievement that can appear in any genre of film, there is something magical to be said for casting the perfect superhero. They have transforming powers over us, completely redefining our image of a character we were already familiar with, to the point where the character becomes almost untouchable for any other actor. These actors don’t just step into a role and then step out of it; they often become the character to a point where the line between actor and character is blurred, even for them. Their image is often the first recalled when discussing the superhero and persists even years after their film(s) have passed, which have both hurt and helped actors along the way. This article, though, is to celebrate the brilliant work these actors have put forth and helped to create pop culture icons.
These are the top 10 times superheroes were perfectly cast, in no particular order.
10. Michael Keaton – Batman (1989).
Let’s just get this one out of the way first. Keaton was the OG controversial casting, leading to thousands of fans handwriting angry letters to Warner Bros. Studios and director Tim Burton, predicting what hell the internet would bring decades later. Keaton was relatively unknown, with his only major role being the comedic film Beetlejuice. It wasn’t until he stepped out of the shadows, grabbed some punk by his jacket, and said the words, “I’m Batman,” that fans let up on their criticism. While four other actors have stepped into the live-action role since (many more if you include animation and television, not to mention our upcoming new Dark Knight, Robert Pattinson), it was Michael Keaton’s portrayal that gave us the actual Dark Knight fans had been craving for years. His charismatic Bruce Wayne matched his brooding Batman in such a harmonious performance that has left it almost impossible to outdo. The role was so synonymous to Keaton himself that it slowed, an argument could be made for halted even, his career. He would later parody this in Birdman Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) which would act as a career comeback.
9. Zachary Levi – Shazam (2019)
With only one Shazam film appearance under his belt, it says quite a lot for Zachary Levi to appear on this list. It’s very possible that there’s just not that many incarnations of Shazam (formerly Captain Marvel) to compare him to, unlike many others on this list. That does help to make him stand out but it would be insulting to discount his performance that much. This man was made for this role. Levi has built a career on hidden gems roles such as Chuck and Flynn Ryder, but none more surprising as Shazam. He managed to capture the nuanced wonder a child would have should he actually be trapped in a man’s body. Not to mention how accurate his portrayal of how anyone would behave if they got super powers suddenly was. It was a large feat to ask of someone because Shazam isn’t a simple immature adult, which is easily how the role could been played. He is complex and naive and a jerk and a hero all at once, and Levi nailed it. He was the most enjoyable part of a most enjoyable film.
8. Patrick Stewart – X-Men (2000)
With very little reluctance from audiences, Patrick Stewart stepped from his iconic turn as Jean-Luc Picard to Professor Charles Xavier, an equally as memorable character role. He brought a gentler touch to Professor X, imbuing him with a father type attitude compared to his often shady demeanor in the comics. It’s a role he has played in film and games for close to two decades and, for most, it will be the only way they know Professor X. Now, no one is saying that James McAvoy has done a bad job. Quite contrary to that actually. He’s played Professor X in a way that’s actually more likened to the comics than Stewart’s performance. But it was Stewart that got to the role first and has forever cemented into our brains that he is Professor X. Besides, can you imagine anyone else portraying him in Logan as tragically as he did? No, you can’t. Because it’s impossible.
7. Gal Gadot – Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
As the only woman to grace this list, it is easy to say that Gadot has crushed the role of Wonder Woman. Like most of the people on this list, her casting came with some intense backlash, with criticisms falling into one of two camps: her physical appearance or her level of experience. However, Zack Snyder knew when she auditioned that she was special. And she is special. Gal brought everything we needed to see in Wonder Woman to the role. She was goodhearted with a little naivete, she was bloodthirsty with restraint, she was dedicated to her convictions without being grim. It’s no wonder that the direction of the DC films is hinging on her being a part of them.
6. Ryan Reynolds – Deadpool (2016)
Sometimes an actor is able to step into a role and completely transform it. Other times, that character gets molded into this combination of real life and fiction. And then there’s Ryan Reynolds’s take on Deadpool. This man fought for this character, and this film, for the better part of a decade. He paid his dues with X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Blade: Trinity, and Green Lantern. He proved to everyone with a short scene released on YouTube, completely funded by him, that Deadpool could work on the big screen, and there was no one else to do it than him. This man put his blood and sweat into this character and gave us two of the coolest superhero films to date. It’s an exciting path to be on and watch how it continues to unfold.
5. Samuel L. Jackson – Iron Man (2008)
This is an odd choice, but hear me out: Samuel L. Jackson has been playing this character since the beginning of the MCU. He has been in more movies than any of the other actors involved (he’s been in 11 of the films. Robert Downey, Jr. has been in 9 to date.) Despite not having a solo movie of his own (which he should have) and despite the character being portrayed completely differently in most of the comics and a previous film, Jackson has made Nick Fury synonymous with his name. How he got the part is fairly incredible as well: Brian Michael Bendis decided he wanted to base the new version of Nick Fury for The Ultimates comic on Jackson’s look and personality. Jackson agreed fairly quickly with only one caveat: he wants to play him in the movie. The MCU did not have to keep that bargain, but they did. And since then, the world has associated Nick Fury, the spy of spies, with Samuel L. Jackson.
4. Chris Evans – Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
At first, Chris Evans may have seemed like a weird casting for Captain America. He was mostly known for dorky comedic roles at the time, but so many people behind the scenes believed in him. Even more so than Chris believed in himself. Reportedly, Evans turned down the role twice, hesitant to sign such a large multi-picture deal, and it wasn’t until Downey himself talked to him that he agreed to it. It was fairly obvious from his first two outings as Captain America, that the MCU and the directors involved were not sure what to do with him. He played the role of Steve Rogers just fine, but ultimately, his power set was underutilized and he looked bland compared to some of the other characters. It wasn’t until Captain America: Winter Soldier that Evans was given a chance to really shine. Since then, we’ve been watching Evans embody the role of Captain America both on and off screen, being the person we all wish we could be.
3. Christopher Reeve – Superman (1978)
This list would be sorely mistaken if it managed to leave off the very first perfectly cast superhero: Christopher Reeve as Superman. He really did make us all believe that a man could fly. This movie was well before my time, yet still managed to resonate with me as a kid. As soon as he steps on screen, Reeve as Superman inspires awe, causing me to hold my breath the first time I saw him. He told us that he stood for truth, justice, and the American way, and it never once felt hokey. You believed him to be earnest and genuine, something that’s not always achievable by actors. His first two outings as Superman are nearly perfect films, creating a standard that we still hold both superhero movies and the actors that play those heroes. Reeve not only took on the large task of portraying the number one most recognized hero in the world, but he also managed to play his counterpart, Clark Kent, in a way that hasn’t been outdone since. He wasn’t bland or meek. Reeve’s take on Kent was subtle and sweet, but you still couldn’t look away from him. He will forever be the man on the pedestal that we compare our heroes to.
2. Hugh Jackman – X-Men (2000)
Let’s face it: we all think of Wolverine when we hear Hugh Jackman’s name. And it’s difficult to recall a time where we didn’t. For the last (almost) 20 years, Jackman has brought this character to life, giving him a little more depth to add to our previous comic knowledge and evoking more attachment to his character than most people expected. He was never anyone’s first choice to play the character considering just how physically different he is from the comic book version, and even joining the original cast a few weeks after shooting had begun. He blew everyone’s expectations out of the water, becoming a stand out feature of any X-Men film and the saving grace for the less than good ones. It is no wonder why Wolverine was the fan favorite for so long and the only X-Man to receive spin-off movies. With his character, and most likely because of his character, we’ve also seen an evolution of the superhero films. These movies no longer sit in a bottle of their own but have incorporated other genres which the Wolverine/Logan trilogy exemplifies marvelously. While we were all heartbroken to hear that Jackman would no longer play Wolverine, we were thrilled that the last time we saw him was in Logan, which is objectively one of the best modern westerns out there.
1. Robert Downey, Jr. – Iron Man (2008)
There is no reason why Iron Man should have worked as well as it did. The MCU wasn’t a thing. Marvel had no choice but to lead their new film studios with C and D list characters because they had sold off all of their successful comic book properties. They took chance after chance. Director Jon Favreau was best known for his side roles in Swingers and PCU. The script was changing every day, even while shooting was happening. But Robert Downey, Jr. was the biggest wild card of them all. The studio had been pushing for Tom Cruise to play Tony Stark since the 90’s. He was reliable and a box office money bag. RDJ was coming off a personal hiatus and was no one’s first choice to play anything at the time. He was personally recommended by Terrance Howard (then cast as James Rhodes), with him and Favreau in Downey’s corner after the audition. Since then, we’ve got 9 movies proving to us why Robert Downey, Jr. has been the lynch pin for the MCU success over the years. Sure, there’s been amazing MCU casting, some even appearing on this list. But can you honestly imagine a world where Tom Cruise or Sam Rockwell (another Tony Stark contender) was our Iron Man? Hell no. At the end of Iron Man, when Robert Downey, Jr. says so confidently, “I am Iron Man” he wasn’t just saying a line in a movie. He was proclaiming to the world that this character belongs to him now and will forever be associated with his name.
That’s my list! The top 10 best superhero castings as of 2019. There are many more I considered adding to the list, such as any of the three Spider-Mans (that is proper English and I’m a sucker for all three, don’t @ me) or Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach. Let us know in the comments what you think. Who would be in your top 10 superhero casting list?