Dozens of comic book movies have been released over the past 25 years. Each new flick presents action, a plot that is meant to hook fans, and both new and diverse characters. The characters truly serve as the grounding of these movies. Nearly every comic book film has the character’s name in its title, whether it be 1989’s Batman or 2017’s Wonder Woman. This shows the importance of character in any comic book movie, as these titular heroes become iconic not just to the hardcore base of fans, but to the mainstream audience.
For a performer to bring a fan favorite character to the big screen, he or she needs some clever writing, good directing, and stellar acting talent. If the formula of these ingredients works, there could result one of the most lasting performances that comic book fans will remember for generations. However, even if these steps to success are an epic fail, sometimes they STILL lead to fans remembering performances of comic book characters (though perhaps not in the best way…). Because of these long-lasting performances (for better or worse) in comic book movies over the past few decades, it is naturally time to count down CBR’s top 15 most unforgettable comic book movie performances!
15. STAR LORD (CHRIS PRATT)
From the second “Come and Get Your Love” starts playing, audience members knew that Guardians of the Galaxy was going to be something special. The film wove together great action sequences with phenomenal humor and showcased superb performances. Establishing unfamiliar characters to audiences can be a difficult feat, especially when those characters including a raccoon and a tree.
Chris Pratt, however, made Guardians work. Having spent years on Parks & Recreation as the chubby funny guy, he used his honed comedic talents to hit comedic notes that would feel awkward in the hands of many other actors. Additionally, Pratt’s work in films like Zero Dark Thirty and Moneyball made him more than just a comedian, but also an emotionally resonant and truly memorable addition to the MCU.
14. ALFRED (MICHAEL CAINE)
Given his long legacy of characterization and the different takes creative teams have brought to the character in comics, Alfred is an easy man to mess up. Some renditions could seem too cartoony (Batman & Robin), others could seem too intense (Gotham). So, when Christopher Nolan sought out to find his Alfred, it was not going to be easy. Luckily for the director, the Academy Award winning Michael Caine knew exactly what to bring to the project.
Throughout the Dark Knight Trilogy, Caine was both sincere and wise. He felt like the classic Alfred that inhabited older comics and Batman The Animated Series. His emotional scenes in The Dark Knight Rises really solidified his dominance over the role and proved that a supporting character really can steal the show.
13. LEX LUTHOR (JESSIE EISENBERG)
Yes, some of these performances are ones we wish to forget, but can’t, thus making them, in their own special ways, unforgettable. Now, some diehard fans of Batman v. Superman will argue that moviegoers “just didn’t understand” Eisenberg’s interpretation of the character. Speaking for those fans: we understood it! It’s just really stupid!
Pitching Luthor as a young tech mogul allows for a bounty of uncomfortable scenes, like the unforgettable Jolly Rancher gag. Not staying true to the character’s bald appearance until the very end of the film was an initial jab at fans (albeit a superficial one); however, taking away the professional and business-oriented persona that the character embodies, at least in his classical context, was a bold move. Though many pride DC on the new take of Lex Luthor, countless cringy moments make this an interpretation we’d rather forget.
12. JUGGERNAUT (VINNIE JONES)
There are countless standouts in the X-Men franchise, most of them pretty terrible. On the plus side, two of the series leads have even been knighted by the Queen for their incredible contributions to the profession of acting! On the other hand, Vinnie Jones will forever be remembered not with royal praise, but with four words: “I’m the juggernaut, bitch!”
X-Men 3: The Last Stand had many missteps. However, in an otherwise forgettable, throwaway movie, Vinnie Jones’s blatant overacting stood out and provided an actual moment of comic relief, even if it was unintended. Though the character has a much richer backstory in the comics and even some decent action sequences in the film, the meme culture surrounding this moment by fans (who both cringe and laugh at it) undoubtedly proves that the performance’s legacy is strong.
11. SPIDER-MAN (TOM HOLLAND)
It can be difficult to go toe-to-toe with Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans. It can be even more difficult when you’re a teenager. However, Tom Holland stood on his own and made a phenomenally lasting impression on audiences in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War. With just a few scenes of screen time, the actor had all of the quips and wit that define the character of Peter Parker and make the hero Spider-Man so unique, fun and downright iconic.
Holland was faced with a difficult task: playing a new Spider-Man just two years after Andrew Garfield, who many fans previously praised, fettered though he was in his outings by terrible direction and awful scripts. However, the youthful vibe and classic comic feeling of Holland was relatable and promising. After the amazing reception to his Spider-Man, Holland’s portrayal is already in the record books.
10. MAGNETO (MICHAEL FASSBENDER)
Michael Fassbender, as we know him now, is a world-class actor. With stand-out performances in amazing films like 12 Years a Slave and Steve Jobs, the guy has some serious acting chops. However, when first cast as Magneto, many fans wondered: could this guy replace the legacy that Sir Ian McKellen so expertly brought to the role?
Not only did Fassbender ease fans’ concerns, he also delivered what became his own emotional and conflicted rendition of Magneto, one which added, but did not take away from the performance of the inimitable McKellen. Seeing the internal turmoil of this young character brought a new side to the supervillain fans loved. Seeing his transformation on screen was something special, understanding his evil was memorable, and seeing his performance was unforgettable.
9. CATWOMAN (MICHELLE PFEIFFER)
Previously unseen on the big screen, the delicious and often dastardly Batman frenemy Catwoman was a huge character, who was set to debut on the big screen in 1992’s Batman Returns. Despite the greatness of Anne Hathaway’s more realistic and subdued Selina Kyle in The Dark Knight Rises, Michelle Pfeiffer’s sexy yet chilling turn as the character is the one that fanboys and girls remember to this day, and one which will probably never be topped in terms of memorability.
Tim Burton’s dark directorial vision of Batman proved to create many iconic characters, including Michael Keaton as the titular hero. However, in a movie with the famed Danny DeVito already playing a creepy villain, the fact that Pfeiffer is able to steal the show is a testament to her acting ability and the strength of the character she inhabits.
8. BATMAN (CHRISTIAN BALE)
The jokes that arise from his raspy voice are reason enough to include Bale on this list. Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy had a lot of superb moments and Bale was the one at the center of them all. The actor was able to deliver the three necessary sides of Bruce Wayne: the billionaire playboy, the traumatized orphan, and the brutal vigilante.
By portraying Bruce Wayne in Nolan’s realistic world, Bale feels like the Batman that many fans would expect to see if Gotham truly existed in our real world. He feels like the embodiment of everything that Bruce Wayne is and stands for, as well as the truly imposing figure that he becomes when he dons the cape and cowl as the Dark Knight detective. Despite how memorable that voice is — for both purposeful and unfortunate reasons — Bale’s performance goes far beyond it.
7. PROFESSOR X (JAMES MCAVOY)
Following the trend of younger actors making legendary roles more realistic and in many ways more “human,” James McAvoy brings something special to an otherwise insurmountable task in the new X-Men trilogy. Professor X is usually seen as a perfect figure, an all-knowing fountain of wisdom for all the young mutants to call upon, played beautifully in previous and later performances by the mind-meltingly talented Sir Patrick Stewart. But going back in time and seeing Charles Xavier learn to hone his powers in First Class is an aspect of the character brought to life impressively by the incredibly gifted McAvoy.
The real meat of McAvoy, though, comes in his hopeless rendition of Xavier in Days of Future Past. In playing a character who is seemingly lost, fans applauded this new side of Charles and McAvoy’s pitch-perfect sadness and confusion elevate the role to a whole new level.
6. BATMAN (GEORGE CLOONEY)
Once again, “unforgettable” isn’t always a good thing, as has been proven in the memorable yet despised Batman & Robin. On its own, this film is plenty unforgettable, but George Clooney playing Batman is absurdly memorable in the worst possible ways. Clooney is one of the most charismatic actors (and men) in the world, so it’s ironic that he brings absolutely no charisma to his rendition of Bruce Wayne.
In the role, Clooney only awkwardly turns his head and says declaratory statements with a lack of enthusiasm. The blame can’t all be placed on Clooney, though. The “direction” of Joel Schumacher and odd style choices like including the bat nipples (again…), plus stupid things like the bat credit card, as well as the poorly designed Batcave and Batmobile, made Clooney’s Batman the worst type of unforgettable.
5. J. JONAH JAMESON (J.K. SIMMONS)
At this point in the list, we’ve reached one role so iconic that even multiple reboots haven’t touched it. Despite the Marc Webb Amazing Spider-Man entries and the forthcoming Homecoming, no news has ever been spread about replacing J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson, and perhaps that’s because the character so fully, completely and wonderfully owned the character!
The Oscar-winning actor brought his gruff no-nonsense attitude to the role of the newspaper editor and played fantastically off the other actors around him. Where Tobey Maguire was a soft puppy dog of Peter Parker, Simmons was the intense yet hilarious obedience school trainer, barking orders. Despite his casting as Commissioner Gordon in the DCEU, many fans still petition Simmons to return to the iconic role nearly ten years after his last portrayal.
4. DEADPOOL (RYAN REYNOLDS)
Deadpool was a huge risk for Fox. After making a horribly memorable rendition of Wade Wilson in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the studio decided to trust Ryan Reynolds’ acting ability and the vision of director Tim Miller, not to mention the passion both clearly had for bringing the Merc With A Mouth to the big screen, finally, in all his glory. Luckily for them, the R-Rated gore fest of laughs and excitement was worthwhile!
This payoff for the studio came directly from the effort Ryan Reynolds put into the character of Wade Wilson/Deadpool. Reynolds admits he is a long-time fan of the character and he did a metric ton of research to properly portray ol’ Wade. This shows on-screen from the perfectly timed snarky remarks, the adequate level of self-pity, and the superb energy from its star.
3. WOLVERINE (HUGH JACKMAN)
It’s not often that an actor plays one character for the amount of time that Hugh Jackman played Wolverine. When first cast, many frowned upon the short and stocky hero being played by a tall and lean Australian thespian. Soon after, we fans were proven dead wrong as Jackman stepped into the role with an incredible love of the character and made the two almost inextricable from here on out on-screen.
In eight of the X-Men films released since 2000, Jackman has played the lead. Despite a few hiccups along the way (*cough* X-Men Origins: Wolverine *cough*), Jackman has retained his physically intimidating stature and commanding on-screen presence. Whether it be his role as a straight-up action hero earlier in the franchise, or his emotional and human turn in his final chapters, Jackman has left a lasting impression that will be difficult to ever top.
2. IRON MAN (RDJ)
Whenever the rumors arise about MCU actors retiring, Robert Downey Jr. is often the first name to come up. Following this speculation, fans immediately engage in uproar louder than any other casting news or rumors in the industry. RDJ really found his niche in the role of Tony Stark, so much so that he fully embodies the character, both on-screen and off of it.
The genius/billionaire/playboy/philanthropist is really the heart of the MCU tone. He also has the smarts that make real men extraordinary in a universe where the fantastic has become the everyday. Downey shows both sides of this, plus a more tortured side during Iron Man 3 and Civil War. His multifaceted performance makes him feel the most realistic of all superheroes and the most unforgettable character in the MCU to date.
1. THE JOKER (HEATH LEDGER)
A common trend on this list has been unexpected actors delivering fantastic performances, much to the shock (and either delight or chagrin) of fans. Once again, when Heath Ledger was cast as the Joker, fans were puzzled and angry. “10 Things I Hate About You is the Joker!?” Outrage, as it often does, ensued. However, not only did Ledger prove these naysayers wrong, he defined an iconic role that will quite possibly never be topped.
As the vile and methodical Joker, Ledger wreaks havoc on Gotham. His reign of terror shows the madness behind all evil in the world and gave viewers nightmares. Ledger won a posthumous Oscar for his turn as the character, impressing Academy members and moviegoers alike. Ledger tragically passed away before The Dark Knight hit theaters, but his performance in the film will continue to live on and promote his legacy as a world-class actor.
Let us know what you think are the most unforgettable comic book movie performances in the comments!