We had a good bit of fun writing on some of the worst casting decisions ever in comic book movies; after all, it’s always great to look at something, see what went wrong, and offer a suggestion (we’re liable to think most of our casting was spot on, as it were). While that was all well and good, we’re going to switch gears a bit, and spend a little time directing praise at the casting directors who managed to get it right. We are bringing you the 10 best casting decisions in comic book films, and we think we’ve managed to strike a delicate balance between man, woman, hero and heroine in taking a look back at some of the best decisions made during these respective adaptation processes.
10. Wesley Snipes as Blade (Blade)
We’re kicking this list off in style, taking it way back to the 1990s (1998, to be exact) in order to discuss one of the most pitch-perfect castings in comic book movie history. Finding a man to play the tight-lipped but incredibly badass vampire slayer Blade might have seemed a tall task, were Wesley Snipes never born. As luck would have it, the man himself ended up playing the half-man, half-vampire who divides his time equally between delivering one-liners and slicing up vamps with style. Snipes, who starred as the character in the excellent Blade, the even better Blade II and the extremely disappointing Blade: Trinity, seems cut and pasted from the pages of the source comics; he looks the part, he talks the part, and we’ll be damned if we can imagine anyone else playing the role with as much attitude as Snipes (even though it appears Marvel is at least discussing the possibility of re-booting the character as an addition to their Marvel cinematic universe).
9. Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool (Deadpool)
We didn’t shy away from including impending releases on this list, and Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool won’t be the last to-be-released addition to this list. That said, we feel as though we’ve seen enough from both Reynolds, Deadpool source material and the trailers and footage released so far to say that this is one of the best casting decisions in the history of comic book movies. Reynolds seems to be having as much fun as anyone in bringing the Merc With the Mouth to the big screen, and his lightning fast dialogue and ear for the sarcastic and strange seems to be perfectly in tune with the ever-popular antihero of Marvel’s comics. Deadpool, who has always been a little too weird for mainstream fanfare (but maintains a rabid cult fanbase) is set to make his solo film debut in February of 2016, and we’re eager to see whether Reynolds and company are capable of delivering on the significant hype they’ve accumulated with the movie’s excellent marketing campaign.
8. Famke Janssen as Jean Grey (X-Men, X2: X-Men United)
Brian Singer’s X-Men franchise has been home to innumerable instances of excellent casting; from Hugh Jackman as Wolverine (a casting that just missed this list) to Ian McKellen as Magneto, Singer has repeatedly shown an ability to choose excellent actors and actresses to fill iconic roles on-screen. One of the best instances of that casting saw Singer choose former Bond girl Famke Janssen as Jean Grey, the uber-powerful telekinetic and telepath who is the object of affection for both Wolverine and Scott Summers (also known as Cyclops). Janssen, who brings an sense of intrigue and playfulness to the normally stoic Grey, is one of the true delights of X-Men and X2: X-Men United, and while Brett Ratnor’s X-Men: The Last Stand managed to bungle the legendary “Dark Phoenix” comic arc, Janssen’s performance as the character stands as one of the most perfect adaptations of a character we can think on.
7. Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn (Suicide Squad)
David Ayer’s Suicide Squad has yet to be released (that won’t happen until August of 2016), but we’re already hearing rave reviews for red-hot actress Margot Robbie (of The Wolf of Wall Street fame) as Harley Quinn, the depraved sidekick of the Joker who is making her big screen debut in the much-anticipated “anti-superhero” film. Robbie, who stole scene after scene in The Wolf of Wall Street with her heavy Bronx accent and stunning features, looks as though she stepped out of the pages of Batman’s rogues gallery in the promotional material seen so far, and if the Comic Con sizzle reel for the film is a good indicator, she’ll be a force to be reckoned with as she and the Suicide Squad attempt to do some good while being bad.
6. Tom Hiddleston as Loki (Thor, The Avengers)
It’s no secret that the increasingly influential Marvel Cinematic Universe has suffered from poor displays of villainy. For all the success Marvel Studios has had in transferring their iconic heroes from page to screen, they’ve been left wanting for the ways in which they use their villains not as complex, fully realized characters, but rather as pegs for the heroes to knock down on their way to success. This has led to some woefully underdeveloped villains (wasting James Spader as Ultron was undoubtedly the biggest bungle so far) who are as forgettable as they are easily defeated. That said, the one villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe who has far outstripped expectations is Loki, Thor’s meddling brother. Brought to life by a dominant performance from relative newcomer Tom Hiddleston, who plays the character not as a power hungry tyrant but as a jealous, confused and vindictive little brother, Loki remains the most important villain to-date in the MCU and should be ready to raise more hell moving forward.
5. J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson (Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2)
Now here’s one you may not have seen coming, but we’ll be damned if we were going to leave this spot-on casting off of our list. While J. Jonah Jameson is far from a noted character to mainstream audiences, he’s long been the primary antagonist for Peter Parker, if not Spider-Man. For that reason, and for Simmons’ alarming ability to bark commands with aplomb, we’re sliding his performance as the feared editor of The Daily Bugle in at number five on our list of great comic book movie castings. Simmons, who played the role in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2 and Spider-Man 3, is absolute perfection as Jameson, chewing scenery and making for a believable problem in young Peter Parker’s life. With his flat top haircut, ever-present cigar and dedicated smear campaign against Spider-Man, J. Jonah Jameson is more iconic than most would give him credit for, and we’re glad Simmons was able to bring him to the screen with such ferocity.
4. Ron Perlman as Hellboy (Hellboy, Hellboy 2: The Golden Army)
Bringing the cantankerous, moody and gruff character of Hellboy to life might’ve been a difficult task for filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro had he not worked with Ron Perlman in Blade II; as it was, the director knew just who to call when given the opportunity to adapt Mike Mignola’s legendary independent comic for the big screen. By far the strangest character on this list (and that’s saying something), Hellboy is the star of both Hellboy and Hellboy 2: The Golden Army, two excellent films carried by Perlman’s ornery but charming performance as the titular antihero. Hellboy, who makes use of his paranormal capacities by fighting off beasties, goblins and ghouls of all sorts, is actually quite a dark character, and Perlman adds some nuance to his performance to accommodate for the character’s status as the Beast of the Apocalypse (he is meant to act as the downfall of humanity, after all). With any luck, Perlman and Del Toro will be given the opportunity to finish out the Hellboy trilogy in the near future, as the small but passionate fan base for the films would love to see a proper ending to this excellent series.
3. Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff (The Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier)
Rumor has it action heroine Emily Blunt was set to take on this role before scheduling conflicts prevented her from jumping into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but we are among those who consider that a good thing. After watching her performance in movies like Iron Man 2, The Avengers and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, we have a hard time buying anyone but Scarlett Johansson as the sultry and secretive Natasha Romanoff. Johansson, who brings far more to the role than the ability to fill out a Lycra bodysuit, plays Romanoff with a sense of purpose, portraying her as an individual who understands her role in conflicts as neither black nor white, but rather as an individual who operates in shades of grey. While her increasingly complex relationship with Bruce Banner in Age of Ultron seemed a bit forced/out of place, we’re eager to see which side she lands on in the upcoming Captain America: Civil War.
2. Sir Patrick Stewart as Professor Charles Xavier (X-Men, X2: X-Men United)
It’s a testament to the strength of Patrick Stewart’s performance as Charles Xavier that since his screen debut in 1998’s X-Men, Marvel comic book artists have begun to draw the character more in-line with Stewart’s appearance. This alone would seem to grant a special significance to his performance, as he’s influenced the very source material from which his character was drawn. For his part, Stewart plays the role of Charles Xavier perfectly, acting as both the world’s greatest teacher and the X-Men’s authoritative leader (and playing each with the grace and strength required of a complex role). Stewart, who reprised his role in last year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past but seems absent from the impending X-Men: Apocalypse film, may have sat in the iconic wheel chair for the last time, but we’re still hoping he finds a way to make an appearance in another X-Men film in the near future.
1. Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man (Iron Man)
The similarities between Robert Downey Jr. and his most famous on-screen performance run deep, deeper than the ability to deliver a snarky one-liner or rock an iconic goatee. In many ways, Downey Jr. is eerily reminiscent of the Tony Stark that many of us grew up with reading comics. A former addict who rose from near uninsurable status to become one of the world’s biggest stars, it was Downey Jr.’s performance in Iron Man that kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and he remains the most recognizable member of the Avengers squad that is now found on merchandise from North America to Asia to Africa and everywhere in between. Effortlessly charming, enticingly edgy and 100% Stark, Robert Downey Jr. remains the best casting decision in the history of comic book films.