How many times have you found yourself saying to someone: “You know… the guy/girl that plays [insert superhero name here].” Superhero roles have the ability to jumpstart an actor’s career by getting them in a huge blockbuster franchise which would result in financial stability for a lifetime, A-list status, countless photoshoots and action figures with their likeness. It must be a truly daunting experience. While some see this as a gift, others become typecast. They are no longer seen as regular actors, but as “Spider-Man” or “Batman”, forever attached to the character they played even years later. These are iconic roles, and it is only natural for people to see these actors as the characters they play.
When it comes to the superhero movie genre, actors shoulder a lot of weight to appease the fanbase. Some of the entries on this list are cursed by their inability to escape a superhero role, while others welcome it and relish in their strong ties to superhero characters. They embrace the blessing and the curse of being and take advantage of their position to do real good in the world and make a difference in people’s life. Lets look at 15 actors who are forever trapped in their superhero past.
15. HUGH JACKMAN
Hugh Jackman will always be Wolverine. Even if other actors play Wolverine down the road and despite the fact that not all of his outings as the character were critical successes, Jackman has given his all to the Wolverine over the years. He has played him for 17 years in nine different movies, longer than any other live-action actor has played a superhero. For that reason alone, he will always be linked to the role.
And above all that, he made a fantastic Wolverine, imbuing his portrayal with the rage and heartache synonymous with the character. He proved that even a tall, lanky guy can become the Wolverine. Over the course of the series, he began to look more and more like the character, reaching a physical peak (well into his 40s) that most of us can’t even dream of.
14. CHRISTIAN BALE
From a career perspective, Christian Bale has definitely reinvented himself countless times over the years, which has allowed him to break away from his Batman character. He has done ridiculous feats with his body, famously gaining and losing weight so effortlessly for his roles and he embodies each of his characters with great intensity.
Despite his fantastic acting chops and ability to immerse himself in a character, people will always remember him for one particular aspect of his Batman performance: that low, raspy Batman voice. There are countless parody videos and memes making fun of his Batman voice and it has followed him long after he stopped playing the Dark Knight, and it’s something that will forever live with the Batman actor even though he no longer owns the role.
13. RYAN REYNOLDS
Ryan Reynolds is a huge fan of Deadpool. So much so that he got stuck playing a horrendous bastardized version of the character in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. He was told this was his chance to play the character he loved so much, so he did what he could, writing a lot of his own dialogue for the earlier scenes in the movie.
As a result, audiences got a taste for the real Deadpool in those earlier scenes, but all that was completely undone in the climax of the movie. In any case, Reynolds will always be linked to the success story of the Deadpool film series, as he was able to overcome the odds and help create an R-rated superhero movie, a trend that continued in the X-Men franchise with Logan.
12. HENRY CAVILL
Unless Justice League proves to make an entirely different take on Superman, Henry Cavill will always be remembered as the muscle-bound actor that looks the part but doesn’t act it, and we really don’t want that to happen to him. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. proved that he has the charm to play Superman, so let’s hope that they give him that chance to flaunt even a little bit of personality when playing both Clark and Supes.
We don’t want him to go down in history has the Superman that never smiles. We wish for Cavill to have a bright future after his work in the DCEU is over, but it can’t happen if they don’t write a better Superman, and people will never be able to separate him from the bad Superman writing.
11. BEN AFFLECK
There’s a very good reason Ben Affleck got so much backlash when he was cast as Batman in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The public didn’t think he had it in him to play such an iconic character, and that is because they still didn’t get the bad taste of his turn in the 2003 Daredevil film disaster.
Even though he has been on a roll in the past few years, starring in and directing quite a few fantastic films including the Academy Award winning Argo, people were not very quick to forget how bad Daredevil was. Luckily, Affleck did a great job portraying Batman, but we fear that people still haven’t forgotten his previous superhero work and they won’t ever get over all the rumors of him possibly wanting out of the Bat-cape and cowl.
10. MARK HAMILL
This is a case where the actor is perfectly happy to be inextricably linked to the character he portrayed. Many were completed shocked when they found out that The Joker in Batman: The Animated Series was voiced by none other than Luke Skywalker himself. For many, this is the best interpretation of The Joker portrayed on screen. He’s a perfect mix of crazy, darkly funny and menacing.
This is an actor who was able to play two iconic characters that are diametrically opposed in every way and many were surprised that the hero of Star Wars had enough range to voice a complete lunatic who also happens to be very funny. Hamill continues to play the character to this day, most recently in Justice League Action.
9. CHRISTOPHER REEVE
In this eyes of anyone who grew up in the ’70s (or anyone who saw his iconic films, for that matter), Christopher Reeve is Superman. No one else could come close to his charisma as the Kryptonian who won over audiences around the world. The actor would become synonymous with the role.
Reeve was a hero not only for his role as Superman but also for his activism. After a tragic accident where Reeve fell off of a horse during an equestrian competition, he became quadriplegic and was a huge lobbyist, discussing spinal cord injuries and the stem cell research. As an honor to his work on the Superman series, he got a small role on the Superman origin television show Smallville. Reeve passed away in 2004, but he will always be tied to his iconic role.
8. JOHN WESLEY SHIPP
John Wesley Shipp played The Flash in the series of the same name that only last two seasons in the early ’90s. Although Shipp has had a long, fruitful career, he will always be remembered as a speedster and a member of the Allen family, especially now that he plays Henry Allen, Barry’s father in the current The Flash television series.
Shipp also played Earth-3 speeder Jay Garrick in the series, which saw him dawn the red tights once again. The lengths this show goes to homage its actor’s heritage is fantastic for fans of the old show who had hoped it would have seen a few more seasons on television. This is an actor that isn’t trapped in a role, but enjoying every second of it.
7. IAN MCKELLEN
Sir Ian McKellen’s deep, booming voice makes us instantly think of two iconic characters: Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings and Magneto in the X-Men series. Magneto’s stark, black and white beliefs about good and bad and the relationship between humanity and mutants can only be convincing if it is depicted by an actor who can balance his vulnerability, his pain and his anger. And McKellen is able to do it perfectly.
He brings so much humanity to what could potentially be a divisive character that could easily be brushed off as a generic bad guy. But McKellen makes him a villain you can empathize with and that is what makes him so greatly linked to the character and even when Michael Fassbender played a younger Magneto, we still see Sir Ian McKellan as the one, true Master of Magnetism.
6. TOBEY MAGUIRE
The 2002 Spider-Man series helped reinvigorate people’s love for comic books and helped usher in a golden age for superhero movies. Its star was launched into superstardom, as he was a part of one of the biggest blockbuster franchises of the decade. When you hear the name Tobey Maguire, you immediately think Spider-Man.
Not necessarily because he was the best actor to portray the character, or because his franchise was the best (we can all agree that the third in the series is definitely a clunker), but because this is the only character we associate with him. Sure he has been in other movies, but nothing he has done has come close to the impact his work on Spider-Man has had on the film industry.
5. WESLEY SNIPES
The Blade Trilogy was one of the earliest comic book film series to gear its content to a mature audience. Countless others have done so since like Kick-Ass, Sin City, Deadpool and Logan, but Blade started it all a decade earlier. And the star of the series, the leather duster wearing, samurai sword wielding, incredibly cool and vicious titular hero was perfectly cast. Wesley Snipes personified the vampire hunting anti-hero flawlessly.
Snipes has recently had trouble with the law for tax evasion, and he has remained a hard worker in the film industry, most notably appearing in The Expendables 3 and Brooklyn’s Finest, he will always be Blade to us and with some whispers that of a Blade revival slowly starting to build, perhaps he could reprise his role.
4. JAMES MARSDEN
Cyclops really got the short end of the stick in the X-Men series. He was meant to be the courageous leader of the X-Men, but he took a back seat to Wolverine in the series. Although we understand why Fox would want to push the violent anti-hero Wolverine to the forefront of their franchise, he was never meant to be the leading man of the X-Men. It was always supposed to be Cyclops who led the team into battle.
He never got his moment to shine in the films. To make matters worse, he was killed off unceremoniously in X-Men: The Last Stand. Apart from a supporting role in Westworld, James Marsden hasn’t done much of interest that would allow him to break away from Cyclops.
3. SAMUEL L. JACKSON
Samuel L. Jackson has been there since the beginning. What started out as a short teaser at the end of Iron Man turned into a huge franchise which extended to a slew of films and television series that are all interconnected. If Iron Man was the beginning of it all, Nick Fury was the one that brought each individual part together to make a cohesive whole, and we can see no one else playing the role better than Samuel L. Jackson.
To make matters even more interesting, writer Mark Millar and artist Bryan Hitch modelled their Nick Fury in The Ultimates mini-series after Samuel Jackson years earlier in 2001. Millar had the chance to ask Jackson if he was annoyed that they used his likeness for their comic book series and he didn’t mind at all. We can safely assume he is perfectly happy being forever associated with Nick Fury.
2. HALLE BERRY
This entry is a two for one double feature because Halle Berry is trapped in two terrible comic book superhero roles: Storm and Catwoman. The less we say about Catwoman, the better. Actually now that we think about it, she probably isn’t trapped in her Catwoman role, because most people have blocked that box office bomb out of their memory.
Luckily we can safely say that we have seen our fair share of great interpretations of Catwoman on screen, but the same can’t be said for Storm. This definitely has a lot to do with the writing, but Storm wasn’t the badass we had all hoped she would be. She has the most corny lines of the entire X-Men cast, and it is hard to believe an Oscar-winning actor has to recite such awful writing.
1. ADAM WEST
Adam West is to Batman what Roger Moore was for the James Bond series: he brought kid-friendly innocence and camp to the role. Whether he is playing the mayor on Family Guy or another fictionalized version of himself, the late Adam West always has his ties to the ’60s Batman television show. His voice and cadence are instantly recognizable.
He made Batman fun and that is completely lacking from the DCEU and although there is probably no room in this series for Shark Repellant Bat-spray (no one in their right mind would ask for that), it is safe to say that DC has a lot to learn from Adam West. And it seems like they have, if the trailers for Justice League are any indication.
Are there any actors trapped in their roles as a hero? Let us know in the comments!
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