While the DC Extended Universe continues to flail wildly in the water, fans of the company and its IPs can at least take solace in the fact that the CW’s lauded Arrowverse is at least attempting to properly represent their favorite characters. Spread across Arrow, Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, Supergirl, and now Black Lightning, the television universe has been pretty artistically, narratively, and financially successful. It’s also given audiences some terrific performances, most notably Stephen Amell’s star-making turn as Green Arrow, Grant Gustin’s character defining Flash role, and Melissa Benoist’s utterly charming portrayal of Supergirl. But, to paraphrase Isaac Newton, for each good performance, there is an equal and opposite terrible performance.
Every time Stephen Amell is on-screen, he unintentionally reminds audiences of his disastrous cousin Robbie. Whenever Grant Gustin runs around like a boss, he has to pull the paltry charisma of Hartley Sawyer behind him like an anchor. Each scene where Melissa Benoist gets to show off the artistic benefit of female empowerment, there’s another where Mehcad Brooks just stands around and looks pretty. Unfortunately, bad performances are going to happen, and when those bad performances mix with the mythic lore and operatic weight of comic book material, it runs the risk of running the character in question.
15 CANDICE PATTON AS IRIS WEST
Ostensibly, Candice Patton is a good actress with palpable screen presence and was actually quite enjoyable as Iris West for the first season or so of Flash. But then the show began a slow but steady process of stripping away any personality the character had so she could fit into the blandest of all relationships with Barry Allen. That’s not necessarily Patton’s fault, in fact she probably has little to no influence in the writer’s room.
But the sense remains that if her performance had a little more meat or depth to it, it could return some semblance of agency to her character.
Which is really a shame since her performance has not changed much from the show’s pilot, highlighting the noticeable drop in writing quality over the last four seasons.
14 MEHCAD BROOKS AS JIMMY OLSEN
Jimmy Olsen, despite not getting any real respect in live-action performances, is actually a deceptively interesting character. He represents the generation of readers who view the living gods he is surrounded by as surrogate father figures, making him an avatar of limitless optimism. The first season of Supergirl actually had a good thing going by initially replacing his role with Winn Schott, who added an unrequited romance element to the character.
But then Mehcad Brooks showed up as James Olsen and viewers immediately realized they wouldn’t be getting the classic comic book character, but a generic pretty boy for Kara to swoon over in a plot line that’s been long forgotten. Even since becoming the hero Guardian, Brooks’s acting style seems to rest firmly on his winning smile and how good he looks with his sleeves rolled up.
13 CYNTHIA ROBINSON AS AMANDA WALLER
In Cynthia Robinson’s defense, she did look the part. To play a character like Amanda Waller, DC’s resident government mastermind, an actor has to have a constant sense of emotional gravitas, an unwavering authoritative presence, and a blisteringly stiff upper lip. Robinson had the stiff upper lip, but didn’t quite bring the presence of emotional and psychological domination that Waller is best known for in the comics.
She’s called ‘The Wall’ for a reason; she is so firm in her convictions that she is capable of doing horrendous things in their name and justifies it with her unmoving resolve.
It’s a deceptively hard role to capture properly, especially when using the result of an overworked CW writers room. Robinson clearly did the best she could, but just wasn’t authoritative enough to pull it off. All of which is a moot point because she was arbitrarily killed off.
12 DANIELLE PANABAKER AS KILLER FROST
To be clear here, Danielle Panabaker’s performance as Dr. Caitlin Snow is perfect. Nobody else in the Arrowverse pulls of the mousy smart girl archetype better, not even Emily Rickards as Felicity Smoak. The problem is when she starts playing Snow’s alter ego, Killer Frost. First off, all, the show has never fully explained why Snow’s superpowers also cause her to change personalities -- it literally makes no sense in any context.
Secondly, Panabaker just doesn’t carry the authoritative intensity to pull off a threatening villain. She has screen presence, but it’s very much restricted to when she doesn’t have to do or say anything too far out of left field. So when she has to wear inch-thick white face paint, blue contacts, and speak through a voice modulator, she tends to come off more as a weirdly stoic clown than anything else.
11 CASPER CRUMP AS VANDAL SAVAGE
Give this to Casper Crump: He at least looked like he was having fun playing Vandal Savage, the immortal caveman turned criminal mastermind. And in a weird way, his way-over-the-top acting style made sense for the character. It probably seemed to Crump that an immortal, ageless being like Savage wouldn’t care if was overdramatic and would be as flamboyant as he pleased.
He might have even been able to pull it off too if the rest of the cast had treated him as the world-ending threat he was supposed to be.
Whenever Savage’s name was mentioned by anyone else, it was spoken with a weird hush to it, like even saying it out loud could be dangerous somehow. But then Crump showed up on-screen looking like he was at a Halloween party and he was going to win that costume contest or so help him nobody was going home happy.
10 ROBBIE AMELL AS RONNIE RAYMOND
Casting Stephen Amell as Oliver Queen was probably the saving grace of the original CW DC show, Arrow. He brought an unforeseen level of gritty brashness to the role that subverted the initial fan interest and has gone on to be the MVP of the entire television universe. But apparently his talent doesn’t run in the family because when his cousin Robbie showed up as Ronnie Raymond, one half of the Firestorm Matrix, he utterly failed to make a splash, even with some of the universe’s most impressive CGI.
Apart from being virtually unable to emote onscreen, his physical resemblance to the more famous Amell only helped to emphasize the vast difference in craft between the two. It’s probably for the best that they replaced him with Franz Drameh, though, to be honest, his acting is a little stilted and onenote as well.
9 NICK TARABAY AS CAPTAIN BOOMERANG
One of the main conceits of Captain Boomerang’s character is that despite using one of the silliest weapons one could use in the modern age, he’s surprisingly cool and keeps relatively calm under pressure. In a sense, getting character actor Nick Tarabay for the role makes a lot of sense as he has a knack for inserting an appropriate amount of chill sleaze into every part he plays.
Unfortunately, it didn’t quite hit the right mark. It’s not clear why, but for some reason Tarabay’s performance felt lazy.
Maybe it was him barely selling being shot in the shoulder by an arrow, maybe it was delivering one-liners that should have been really cool in a total monotone. Or maybe Tarabay foresaw that he’d be in a total of three episodes while his fellow Spartacus alum Manu Bennett would get a recurring role and decided to just go 50 percent.
8 ADAM 'EDGE' COPELAND AS ATOM SMASHER
For those among you who aren’t wrestling fans, Adam Copeland is better known by his in-ring persona, Edge. The Rated-R Superstar has 31 championship reigns to his name, including multiple turns with the Tag-Team, United States, World Heavyweight, and WWE championship belts. His prolific wrestling career was cut short in 2011 when a vicious neck injury forced him to retire early.
Since then, he’s gone the way of many other former wrestlers and tried his hand at acting. But unlike Dwayne Johnson and Dave Bautista, his innate charisma in the squared circle didn’t translate to screen presence. Though he’s had occasional flashes of success, his one-episode turn as a villainous, alter-earth version of classic DC hero Atom Smasher wasn’t one of them. Let’s just say it’s a good thing he won all that wrestling gold because he won’t be taking home an Emmy anytime soon.
7 CIARA RENEE AS HAWKGIRL
Hawkgirl is an innately interesting character, particularly when contrasted with other characters around her. Despite her powers being flight and pseudo-immortality, both ingredients for an outsized personality, she’s supposed to be a down-to-earth, pragmatic partner to her bombastic and irrational soul mate. But to CW writers, that seemed to translate to ‘ditzy and indecisive.’
It wouldn’t be the first time that they’d completely misunderstood a character, but Ciara Renee embraced the reimagining like no other actor in the series had.
She pulled it off well, at least give her credit for being good at her job, but when her job is wrongheaded and messes with the fundamental personality fabric of an iconic character, that tends to be perceived as a negative trait. When she walked away from the Legends at the end of season one, it was one of the best character turns she’d had on-screen in a while.
6 ECHO KELLUM AS MR. TERRIFIC
Let’s get one thing straight: Echo Kellum is a terrific actor and he’s been one of the best things on Arrow for the last few years. The problem isn’t so much his performance as it is the character. He plays a slightly altered version of Michael Holt, aka Mr. Terrific. In the comics, Holt is one of the smartest people on the planet and knows it, but his arrogance is tempered by both an acute self-awareness and unwavering seriousness.
He’s been a significant player in the DC scene for a long time because of his character and staying power. Holt on Arrow is equally entertaining, but he’s the total opposite of the original version. And Kellum’s terrific performance (get it) doesn’t help to bridge the gap.
5 AMY GUMENICK AS CUPID
One of the most dogging criticism of Green Arrow as a character is that he’s seemingly a rip off of Batman mixed with Robin Hood. While that is largely untrue, it hasn’t stopped writers from playing around with the idea of making the Emerald Archer more like the Caped Crusader. One idea was the introduction of Cupid, a clear Harley Quinn clone whose psychosis was a romantic fixation with Green Arrow.
When Amy Gumenick brought the character to Arrow, she did a fairly good job of capturing the character’s obsession but failed in one key aspect.
Her Cupid didn’t seem insane, she felt more like that super clingy girlfriend everyone had in college. Maybe it was the writing, but Gumenick just didn’t have the wide-eyed aura of insanity that the role really needed.
4 ARTHUR DARVILL AS RIP HUNTER
On the surface, casting Doctor Who alum Arthur Darvill as the time-traveling rogue Rip Hunter seems like a perfectly logical decision. After all, he’s basically formed his entire career on his ability to spout science fiction jargon with deadly seriousness. And to be honest, that might be why his performance always seems to rub the wrong way. The Arrowverse version of Rip Hunter is essentially just a watered-down version of Rory Williams and, as such, Darvill visibly puts in half the effort in bringing the rebellious time master to life.
Maybe if he brought his A game, he could have elevated the character out of the shadow of his filmography, but since he apparently can’t be bothered we’ll never know. Name a single instance in Legends of Tomorrow where he drops the snarky-but-serious façade and actually shows off his admittedly impressive range. Don’t worry, we have time.
3 MARK HAMILL AS THE TRICKSTER
When Hamill was announced to be playing Flash villain Trickster in the Arrowverse, fans were excited to see him bring the energy and insanity he brought to his Joker voice-over performances in live-action. Then they saw the result and immediately realized their folly. Part of the problem was that Hamill did exactly what people expected him to do: he just played the character like it was the Joker.
But Trickster was a fan favorite villain specifically because he was different from Joker.
While the Crown Prince of Crime revels in his psychosis, Trickster was legitimately suffering from a tragic form of schizophrenia that made him a costumed villain against his will. Part of the mishandling of Trickster in the Arrowverse is the writer’s fault but Hamill’s enthusiasm to play the character he’d been voicing for almost twenty years didn’t help.
2 TOM FELTON AS DOCTOR ALCHEMY
It really is strange that the young cast of the Harry Potter franchise, once touted as the next generation of great actors, have really struggled to find an industry foothold since the series ended. Daniel Radcliffe has been treading water, Emma Watson’s been busy with her UN work, and Rupert Grint is…actually where did Rupert Grint go? Has anyone checked in on him lately? Is he okay?
And Tom Felton, once the bully everyone loved to hate, had a supporting role on as Doctor Alchemy on the third season of Flash. And what did he do on the show? Well he kind of just kicked around for a bit, had a semi-romance with Killer Frost, and used his British accent as a stand in for his legit acting talent. And give the man a hand ladies and gentlemen, he almost pulled it off. Almost.
1 HARTLEY SAWYER AS ELONGATED MAN
When Hartley Sawyer was told he would be playing a classic DC comics character on the popular Flash show, he was probably pretty excited. Then he learned he’d be playing a character named ‘Elongated Man,’ and you can just imagine the grin slowly fading from his face and turning to a grimace. Still, Hartley is nothing if not a team player and has enthusiastically thrown himself into the role. But his efforts are more often than not completely waylaid by the nonsensical premise of his character.
He’s introduced as a barely-together, morally gray PI easily overwhelmed by the trappings of his everyday life.
Early on, it felt like the character’s development of superpowers would completely unravel the man. Instead, he seems to be completely unchanged personality wise by what should be a total character revelation. And Sawyer, unfortunately, just can’t sell that flatness.