2018 was a huge year for superhero films. Not only did Black Panther break all kinds of box office records, but the world was given Avengers: Infinity War, the most ambitious and surprising superhero film in the MCU to date. Along the way, there were other great films, such as Deadpool 2 and Ant-Man and the Wasp, not to mention the completely bonkers Venom. Each of these films had great aspects, but it was the performances that really carried them through. The actors who appeared in these films gave the kinds of performances that really make a film stand out as more than just a simple adaptation. They took the roles, made them their own, and gave audiences a new perspective on classic characters.
Whether they were playing heroes, villains, or anyone in between, these actors truly embodied their characters. Beyond that, they gave them personality touches that other actors might not have thought about. These performances not only elevated the film, but often the performances of the other actors, too. It's really amazing when talented performers play off one another and generously allow each other to shine in the spotlight. There was plenty of that this year, with not only the main characters of films getting to shine, but many of the supporting players as well. 2018 was the kind of year superhero fans have always hoped for, filled with a variety of films that all played differently, but still gave their actors a real chance to thrive. These are the 25 Best On-Screen Superhero Performances Of 2018, Ranked.
25 BRIANNA HILDEBRAND
Ryan Reynolds playing Deadpool wouldn't be nearly as entertaining without anyone to play off of. Enter Brianna Hildebrand, the eternally unimpressed Negasonic Teenage Warhead. Hildebrand plays the role with low-key energy that is the perfect antidote for Reynolds's cartoonish zaniness.
On top of that, Hildebrand manages to ground her teenage angst in a way that makes it both funny and believable. Let's just say, if there is ever a live-action Daria movie, we know who they should cast in the leading role.
24 STERLING K. BROWN
It may be the briefest role on this list, but as the slain father of Erik Killmonger, N'Jobu, Sterling K. Brown utilizes every minute of his screen time to the fullest. One of the most beautiful scenes in the film is when N'Jobu speaks to Erik in a vision, lamenting his failure as a father to return Erik to his rightful home.
When N'Jobu tells his son: “They will say you are lost,” it resonates as not only a warning, but a challenge to Erik, and the sense of regret that Brown imbues the line is palpable.
23 JULIAN DENNISON
Giving Deadpool a young foil might have seemed like it could go wrong, but giving him one as confident, angry, and altogether tough as Julian Dennison playing Russell Collins (also known as his entirely misguided mutant name, Firefist) made the whole thing work.
The New Zealand actor brought a lot of attitude to the character and made him seem like a considerable threat. After all, what's spookier than an angry teenager who has the ability to control fire? He also delivered some good lines and played off of his comedic counterparts well.
22 JAKE JOHNSON
Jake Johnson is the latest actor to play Peter Parker. Well, at the very least, the latest actor to give him a voice, anyway. In Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Johnson plays Peter Parker as a world-weary superhero, one who has received a lot of accolades, but has also gotten older and might be starting to get a little tired.
Johnson, who might be best known for playing Nick on New Girl, has experience playing guys who are a little bit stuck in their ways. His Peter Parker is the kind of guy who thinks that if Miles Morales is going to do this, he has to do it the Peter Parker way.
21 JOHN MULANEY
Could Peter Porker, the Amazing Spider-Ham, ever be played by anyone other than John Mulaney? The comedian's enthusiasm, nasally tone, and old-style manner of speaking are absolutely perfect for the character, not to mention his brilliant comedic timing.
Mulaney obviously loves playing the character and is no stranger to doing competent voiceover work, which he has done on two seasons of Big Mouth. Mulaney plays the character perfectly, hitting the right comedy notes without going over-the-top.
20 NICOLAS CAGE
It's the year of Nicolas Cage doing voices in animated superhero films. It began with his turn as Superman (finally!) in Teen Titans Go! To The Movies, and it concludes with what might be his best role in years (barring his turn in Mandy) as Spider-Man Noir in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
Cage made the decision to play this version of Spider-Man as a 1930s Humphrey Bogart type, which is exactly the kind of voice you would expect from the fedora and trenchcoat sporting wall-crawler. He also gets to lean into some sloppy metaphors, which is just truly great.
19 PAUL RUDD
Paul Rudd might have seemed like an unconventional choice to play a superhero back when he was first cast as Ant-Man, but over the course of three films, he has really come into the role and made it his own, managing to be an action hero who still has that loose, laid-back Paul Rudd charm.
Rudd really lets his comedy chops shine in Ant-Man and the Wasp in more ways than one. From the quick-fire montage of Scott Lang waiting out his house arrest, to being “possessed” by Janet van Dyne, Rudd took the role and ran with it in a big way.
18 TOM HARDY
Venom might not have been the cinematic masterpiece that people wanted it to be, but Tom Hardy carried the role of Eddie Brock as well as he could given what he had to work with. Hardy refuses to phone in his performance, leaning into his New York accent and really hitting the fidgety notes of someone who is not sure what is happening to them.
While some critics were quick to leap on Hardy for going over-the-top, it was actually kind of fun to watch him embrace the silliness of the script, including jumping into a restaurant's lobster tank and taking a bite out of one of the live crustaceans.
17 HANNAH JOHN-KAMEN
Ant-Man and the Wasp took a step up from Ant-Man by having a more compelling villain in the form of Hannah John-Kamen as Ghost. While Ghost was not traditionally a foe of Ant-Man, her inclusion felt natural and it provided a logical step in the story of Pym's technology development.
John-Kamen played the villain as someone who is not going to pull any punches, but hits the right notes of someone who is operating more out of fear for her own life than anything else. After all, if she doesn't find a way to control her phasing, she could simply blink out of existence.
16 WALTON GOGGINS
If there's one thing Walton Goggins really excels at, it's playing really slimy villains with an air of southern charm and playfulness. He hits those familiar beats with aplomb, playing black market tech dealer Sonny Burch. Goggins leans right into the tone of the film, embracing the Elmore Leonard influence of the story.
Goggins also plays really well against the rest of the cast, often becoming frustrated with their comedic personalities. He's the kind of one-off Marvel villain who is as much fun to hang out with as the heroes.
15 LUPITA NYONG'O
Lupita Nyong'o is no stranger to massive blockbuster films, having already appeared in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. However, she got the chance to play a much more human character in Black Panther as Nakia.
Nyong'o's portrayal of Nakia exemplified her want for justice and the idea that Wakanda could be doing more to help the world. She represents more than just one side of T'Challa's conscience, though, as Nakia is first seen leading an attack to help free women who have been taken from their homes, which is an indication that this character is stronger than she may appear.
14 PAUL BETTANY
Vision might be a machine, but his sacrifice at the end of Avengers: Infinity War (which was ultimately for nothing), registered as more than just a robot getting trashed. That's because Paul Bettany has always given the character a sense of humanity, despite the fact that he somehow transcends being both man and machine.
Bettany's Vision is one who experiences love and knows that humans might never be able to get things right. However, he sees these flaws as endearing and wishes to protect humanity at all costs. His final conversation with Scarlet Witch shows that he finally sees the true value of humanity and understands what it means to sacrifice yourself for someone you love.
13 LETITIA WRIGHT
As T'Challa's younger sister, Shuri, Letitia Wright brought a sense of fun and youthful energy to the otherwise proper and regal tone of the Wakandan royal family. She made jokes, listened to contemporary music, and proved her intelligence in multiple ways. She also got right into the fight during Black Panther's final act, showing that Shuri was not just smart, but also a formidable fighter.
Wright also never let Shuri's humanity disappear, showing that she was always willing to help people in need. In Avengers: Infinity War, Shuri played a pivotal role in trying to remove the mind stone from Vision, and although she failed to do so, there is a distinct possibility that she created a back up of Vision.
12 EVANGELINE LILLY
Evangeline Lilly's role as the Wasp was teased all the way back in Ant-Man's mid-credits scene, and she finally got to wear the wings in Ant-Man and the Wasp. Lilly portrays the character as being far more re-assured and comfortable in her hero role.
That makes sense, considering that she had been preparing to take on the mantle for years. Lilly plays her role with complete confidence, never allowing herself to become the damsel in distress, and saving Scott multiple times when he needed help. Lilly also had the honor of being the first headlining woman in an MCU film.
11 ZAZIE BEETZ
Deadpool 2's hidden weapon was casting Atlanta star Zazie Beetz as Domino, the mutant whose power (which is routinely questioned throughout the film) is luck. There might have been a lot of different ways to portray this character, but Beetz hits it just right.
This version of Domino never seems to be uncomfortable. That's because Beetz understands that life might eventually get kind of boring for someone who has everything work out in their favor. Beetz embraces that aspect of Domino and plays all of her scenes with a sense of comfort and ease, making her another great contrast to Deadpool himself.
10 DANAI GURIRA
One of the true breakout stars of Black Panther was Danai Gurira as the Dora Milaje warrior, Okoye. Gurira played the loyal Wakandan soldier as tough and immutable, but willing to question her loyalty to the throne when an outsider ended up sitting on it.
Okoye also proved to be indispensable during the final battle in Wakanda in Avengers: Infinity War. When she watched her king disappear right before her eyes, Gurira let that surprise and pain of loss come across without a single word. It will be great to see what role she plays in the upcoming Avengers: Endgame.
9 DAVE BAUTISTA
Dave Bautista might just be the MVP of the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise. Not only does his impressive physicality stand up to the character, but Bautista also made him incredibly funny, often ad-libbing his own lines and really giving an otherwise flat character a little more nuance.
In Avengers: Infinity War, Bautista really gets the chance to shine when he battles Thanos, but also when he “turns invisible” by standing really, really still. He also gets off one of the best improvised lines in the entire MCU: “I'll do you one better: Why is Gamora?”
8 CHADWICK BOSEMAN
Black Panther wouldn't have been the hit it was without an impressive and commanding lead, and the film found that in casting Chadwick Boseman as T'Challa, the king of Wakanda. Boseman plays the role with a regal nobility, but still gets the chance to have some down-to-earth moments, particularly with his family members.
Boseman also hits the right notes as a man who is unsure of how to move Wakanda forward. He always appears to be considering what his friends and advisers have to say about planning for the country's future, something that a great king would actually do.
7 SHAMEIK MOORE
Miles Morales gets the big screen treatment in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and he is played perfectly by Shameik Moore. Moore gives Morales the typical teenage qualities, such as being annoyed with one's parents, but also shines in full-on Spidey-quipping mode.
Moore also plays Morales with a lot of depth, truly finding the right tone for someone who is not sure where he belongs or what he should be doing with his newfound power. It's a great Spider-Man performance in a film that is already filled with them.
6 TOM HOLLAND
Tom Holland is most likely going to go down as the best live-action Spider-Man out of everyone, simply for the fact that both his Peter-Parker and Spidey personas are perfectly balanced. Holland's Peter Parker is earnest, sincere, and wants to be a hero so badly.
That desire takes him to great lengths in Avengers: Infinity War, where Holland gives a great performance as an average New York teenager who has found himself in way over his head. His final lines in the film might have become one of the top memes of the year, but they still pack a punch, especially when he turns to Tony Stark and utters his final line: “I'm sorry.”
5 RYAN REYNOLDS
At this point, there is literally no one else in Hollywood who could play Deadpool. Ryan Reynolds has essentially become his character and vice versa. He carried on playing the “Merc with a Mouth” in Deadpool 2, which raised the stakes on everything that was introduced in the first film and gave Reynolds more breathing room to really get silly in the role.
Even during scenes that are meant to be serious or heartbreaking, such as the loss of Vanessa, Reynolds somehow finds a way to hit the balance between tragedy and comedy that so many actors struggle to hit. He's also selfless, allowing his co-stars to riff along with him.
4 ZOE SALDANA
Zoe Saldana has always played Gamora as someone with tough determination and just the right amount of vulnerability. However, in Avengers: Infinity War, we finally see Gamora as someone who is afraid of what her father could do. Normally, Gamora is someone who knows that she and the Guardians can face any obstacle, but this time, she is not so sure.
In her interactions with Thanos, we see that Gamora has always been his favorite, and yet, Saldana plays her role as someone who knows the truth about her father and will stop at nothing to keep him from reaching his goal. In her final moments, Saldana perfectly embodies the fear, surprise, and utter disbelief at what Thanos is willing to do to get the Soul Stone.
3 MICHAEL B. JORDAN
Black Panther might stand as having the best villain in the entire MCU. As Erik Killmonger, Michael B. Jordan possessed not only a smoothly menacing style, but also the sense of carrying the weight of worldwide difficulty on his shoulders. Of all the Marvel villains so far, his motivations have been the most realistic and clear.
Jordan makes Erik Killmonger more than just someone who wants to be a world conqueror: he plays the villain perfectly as the antithesis to the hero. When T'Challa and Killmonger finally sit and watch the sunset after their last confrontation, Killmonger speaks what might be the greatest final lines of any MCU villain, and Jordan gives each syllable the proper weight and integrity.
2 ROBERT DOWNEY, JR.
Since his introduction in 2008, Tony Stark, ably played by Robert Downey, Jr., has been the centerpiece of the MCU. His story arc has taken him from being a careless tech billionaire, to altruistic hero, to authoritarian, to finally being stranded in the depths of space. In the final moments of Avengers: Infinity War, we finally see the weight on Tony's shoulders taking its toll.
Earlier in the film, Tony and Pepper talk about having children, and by the end, Tony has to watch the closest thing he has to a son disappear in his arms. Downey lets that subtext linger without the need to comment on it. Seeing someone who has always been so self-assured about every step he has taken be so completely defeated was absolutely crushing, and Downey, Jr. nailed that sense of remorse and loss in one wordless scene.
1 JOSH BROLIN
With just a snap of his fingers, Thanos erased half of all life in the universe. That makes him the most successful villain in MCU history, someone who is not worthy of any admiration or respect. And yet, seeing Thanos look out over a peaceful farm after achieving his one goal, wearing the smile of someone who has completed the most difficult task, was almost satisfying.
That's all thanks to Josh Brolin's incredible motion-capture performance. Not only does he do a great job physically (throwing a moon at Tony Stark, for example), but he manages to turn The Mad Titan himself into an almost sympathetic figure. Even before he sacrifices Gamora for the Soul Stone, we see in his face that this is not an easy decision for him. No one else could have worn so much emotion on the face of such a powerful being.