Comic book movies are just a fact of life now. Though they’ve been around in some capacity since the dawn of the comic book with regular serial adventures of Batman, Superman or even Captain America, the current comic book movie industry is a juggernaut. Following the wackier era of ’90s comic films, with the likes of Batman and Robin and Captain America stinking up rental stores, 1998’s Blade opened the door for a new era of comic book movie.
With Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 debuting at #1 in the box office and earning 80% of the box office for the weekend, it’s obvious the bubble isn’t going to burst anytime soon. We’ve now reached a point where there’s a pretty solid mix of good movies and bad movies, thanks to films like Captain America: Civil War mingling with films like the recent attempt to reboot Fantastic Four. A lot of these bad comic book films get attention for all the wrong reasons, but a lot of them have one thing in common: a killer performance from a stellar actor who deserved better. With that in mind, here at 15 comic book performances you love to hate (that are actually pretty good).
15. WILLEM DAFOE (GREEN GOBLIN)
Following up Bryan Singer’s X-Men wasn’t going to be an easy feat no matter what it was, but Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man fit the bill easily. It was a simpler time when studios were just trying to get films in theaters and not worry too much about shared universes. The end result was a near perfect Spider-Man film, with exceptional performances.
Willem Dafoe, though, got saddled with a bit of a raw deal as The Green Goblin. Raimi’s Norman Osborn played out less like the scheming maniac we see in the comics and more like a lunatic in a bad Power Ranger costume. The real tragedy is, years later, test make-up for a comics accurate, animatronic Goblin mask shows Dafoe could have been given something amazing! Dafoe gives a great performance, but it was hampered by too thick a directorial oversight.
14. HENRY CAVILL (SUPERMAN)
Henry Cavill almost played Superman in Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns, but ultimately got passed over. Several years later, he came into the role again, this time in Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel. Intended as a gritty, real world take on the Man of Tomorrow in the vein of The Dark Knight, Man of Steel did relatively well at the box office, though was met with mixed reviews.
Cavill’s Superman fails to take off because the script is all over the place, trying to balance the classic sensibility of Superman with the desire to make a gritty action film. The result is an actor who looks like he’s on the verge of an amazing performance, having to stop so he can destroy a town, and the film as a whole suffers because of it.
13. MARK STRONG (SINESTRO)
2011’s Green Lantern film was initially a mixed bag, but in recent years there’s not much fondly remembered about it. Intended to be the starting point of a new DC film universe, the film ultimately flopped despite a huge swell of hype and a series of strong performances.
Most notable among these is Mark Strong, who made his career playing nasty bad guys in the likes of Kick-Ass and Sherlock Holmes. As Thaal Sinestro, Strong turns in a great performance, highlighting the untrustworthy nature of the character. Fans even got to whet their appetite with a post-credits scene showing Sinestro claiming the yellow power ring for his own. Sadly, poor box office sales and abysmal reviews caused DC to back out, and we’ll likely never get to see Strong properly chewing up the scenery as the evil Sinestro.
12. FRANK GRILLO (CROSSBONES)
Frank Grillo’s made a career as a tough guy with roles in Kingdom and Warrior, but he’s also displayed a bit of range, such as playing a lawyer on Prison Break. He’s a tough-looking, recognizable guy, and when he turned up as Brock Rumlow in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, it seemed like the MCU was setting up for a big showdown.
You can imagine the disappointment of fans when Grillo’s Crossbones is instead killed in the opening act of the follow-up, Captain America: Civil War. Given Crossbones’ importance in the original Civil War, it was understandably disappointing, but it was a waste of the excellent Grillo as well. Infinity War could always change everything, but as it stands right now, one of Marvel’s more notable villains and an excellent actor has been absolutely wasted.
11. THOMAS JANE (THE PUNISHER)
Thomas Jane’s had a pretty healthy Hollywood career and has dipped into comic book movies more than once, though typically he has been the victim of studio meddling. In 2004, he scored the coveted role of Frank Castle in The Punisher. Written and directed by Jonathan Hensleigh (who had previously written Die Hard With A Vengeance and Armageddon), the film was well-received, though seen as lacking in parts.
Fans were turned off by the more methodical, eye for an eye revenge plot over a traditional violent vigilante story, and John Travolta’s hammy villain didn’t go over well. Jane turned in a hell of a performance though, and campaigned for years for a sequel, even doing a short film, Dirty Laundry, to drum up interest. The planned sequel never happened though, with Ray Stevenson taking over Punisher: War Zone.
10. JOSH BROLIN (JONAH HEX)
Josh Brolin’s got chops. You can see it when you look at his resume. Men in Black 3, No Country for Old Men, W, the list goes on. For comic fans, he’s firmly entrenched in Marvel’s film universes, recently cast as Cable for Deadpool 2 and having been the voice and mocap actor for Avengers big bad, Thanos, set to chew up the scenery and possibly break a few necks in the upcoming Infinity War.
Brolin made one foray into DC Comics films, and it didn’t pay off. As the titular Jonah Hex, Brolin had the look and gravitas to easily pull off playing the disfigured gunslinger. Despite an all-star cast that included the likes of John Malkovich and Michael Fassbender, the film bombed hard at the box office. Brolin deserved and could do better. Hopefully, Deadpool 2 proves that.
9. RYAN REYNOLDS (HANNIBAL KING)
In many ways, the Blade trilogy is ultimately responsible for the current gluttony of comic book movies we have. Releasing in 1998, the success of the original Blade proved there was still a market for big budget comic book movies, and Marvel took notice. The Blade franchise swelled into a trilogy, but Blade: Trinity left a pretty bad taste in fans’ mouths. Directed by writer David S. Goyer, fans railed against the third entry for its campy nature and focus on style over substance.
Ryan Reynolds, however, seemed to be universally enjoyed in the film, his first foray into comic book films. Hannibal King was loud, crass and sarcastic, and it brought some laughs to an otherwise dull script. The film was ultimately derailed by behind the scenes drama, including disagreements between star Wesley Snipes and Goyer. Reynolds eventually got the comic script he deserved, though, with Deadpool.
8. THE ENTIRE CAST OF THE FANTASTIC FOUR
You’ve probably heard the story: rumored to be a bid to keep the rights to the property, producer Bernd Eichinger and director Roger Corman made a Fantastic Four film in 1994 they had no intention to release (both men insist this is untrue). The film’s cast and crew were left to believe the film was intended to release, and the studio even went so far as to release a trailer in theaters.
The Fantastic Four is somewhat infamous for its low quality, but the cast is really putting in the work here. Not Shakespearean by any stretch, there’s still a fair bit of charm here, and one can’t help but wonder how well the movie would have done with a budget of more than $1 million. The film’s never been publicly released but has long been a staple of bootleg sales at comic conventions.
7. CHRISTOPHER ECCLESTON (MALEKITH)
Christopher Eccleston is a hell of an actor with a hell of a career. He’s also long been known as somewhat picky about his roles, opting to leave Doctor Who before he was typecast as the character so he could return to stage acting. But he’s still got some questionable roles on his resume, like Destro in GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra or, as part of the MCU, Malekith in Thor: The Dark World.
Much like its predecessor, Thor: The Dark World isn’t a bad film necessarily. Eccleston definitely put the work into his role as Malekith, which required nearly 7 hours of make-up and mastery of an invented language. A lot of Malekith’s stuff was actually cut from the final film, with Eccleston mostly off-screen or incapacitated for large chunks of the film. What an absolute waste of a terrific actor for a single MCU jaunt.
6. ANDREW GARFIELD (SPIDER-MAN)
There’s a lot to be said about what was wrong with Marc Webb’s Amazing Spider-Man films. With a tonal shift into an edgier take, the updated Peter lost his dorkier qualities and came across as kind of a jerk. Fans noticed, but still turned up for both films, which proved to be enjoyable enough romps too busy trying to set up a franchise to have any real depth.
And that’s a shame to,o because Andrew Garfield has glimmers of the perfect Peter Parker in him. With a naturally sarcastic personality, Garfield may not have been as instantly endeared to fans as Spider-Man Homecoming‘s Tom Holland is, but he still proved a solid Parker in both films. Garfield campaigned hard to be the MCU’s Spider-Man, but they opted to recast for someone that plays younger to Peter’s traditional age.
5. OSCAR ISAAC (APOCALYPSE)
After a string of smaller hits leading up to Inside Llewyn Davis, Oscar Isaac was having a pretty great 2015. Ex Machina was a critical darling, widely respected and well received. He was also in a little arthouse flick called Star Wars: The Force Awakens. X-Wing pilot Poe Dameron was supposed to die shortly after his introduction, but a change of heart by the writers made one of the most beloved new Star Wars characters ever.
How jarring it must have been for him to be featured just a few months later in X-Men: Apocalypse. Filmed before the release of Star Wars, Isaac is clearly doing the best he can here, but the overblown script and restrictive costuming are clearly taking a toll. For what it’s worth, Isaac does a great job, but as a whole, he definitely deserved better.
4. BRANDON ROUTH (SUPERMAN)
Bryan Singer made the X-Men movies modern classics and jumped ship to DC to fulfill his lifelong dream of making a Superman movie. Superman Returns was met with a slew of mixed reviews, largely thanks to its uneven tone. Part reboot, part love letter to Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie, Superman Returns was riddled with plot holes and contrivances.
Brandon Routh, however, turned in a wonderful performance. Having only appeared in a handful of small roles at the time, Routh’s down to earth nature shone through in a Man of Steel that gets a bad rap. Routh sadly lost out on the chance to reprise the role again, as his contract expired just as DC was going forward with Man of Steel, but he did get the chance to return to the DC Universe as The Atom on Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow.
3. JAMES MARSDEN (CYCLOPS)
When James Marsden was cast in 2000’s X-Men, he was a relative unknown. Marsden’s Cyclops was a central character in the original film, and as the field leader of the X-Men, played a prominent role in the story. In the sequels, though, Cyclops was relegated to a second stringer. Spending the bulk of X2: X-Men United held hostage by the evil Stryker, he was then killed almost immediately in X-Men: The Last Stand.
Fans didn’t take to the stiff, no-nonsense take on the character, but thanks to his long career since then, including a great run on 30 Rock and his recurring role on the hit Westworld, we know Marsden has a lot more range than anyone thought. Cyclops finally got a happy ending in Days of Future Past, but Marsden deserved better than what he got in any of the X-Men films.
2. MICKEY ROURKE (WHIPLASH)
Is Iron Man 2 the most disappointing Marvel sequel? Two years after the first Iron Man changed the trajectory of comic book films and with Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger still a year away, fans came out in droves for Iron Man 2. Unfortunately, the film wasn’t as well regarded, a mix of overinflated hype and a script bogged down in trying to set-up the next steps of the MCU.
The biggest victim of this script was poor Mickey Rourke. Rourke was in the middle of a career resurgence with hits like Sin City and The Wrestler, and was promoted as the film’s big bad. Instead, he’s not only barely in it, but Whiplash barely uses his trademark whips, inexplicably turning up at the end in a giant suit of armor. Rourke was a hot commodity at the time, and the MCU absolutely wasted him.
1. GAL GADOT (WONDER WOMAN)
Gal Gadot’s casting as Wonder Woman in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was met with a bit of fan outcry, but she nonetheless remained one of the film’s hottest attractions. Having not been done in live action since Lynda Carter in the 1970s (a 2011 TV pilot starring Adrianne Palicki had a lot of positive buzz, but failed to get picked up), fans were excited about the prospect of a new Wonder Woman.
Sadly, the script failed her. Spending the bulk of the film on a hushed quest for a photograph, Diana shows up to save the day in a big damn hero moment for the film’s finale, in which no one else in the cast even acknowledges her. No one speaks to her, they barely look at her, and this is after she saves them. Hopefully, she’s a bit more directly acknowledged in the upcoming Wonder Woman.
Which roles do you think were wrongly despised? Let us know in the comments!