The DC Extended Universe of movies finally reached its first milestone after the release of the Justice League film, the superhero team-up movie that saw Batman, the Flash, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Cyborg and Superman unite to repel the invading forces of Apokolips. Regardless of how you ultimately felt about the movie, regardless of what the critics thought and how much money the movie managed to pull at the box office, fans simply cannot deny that all of the actors involved gave it their absolute all to deliver audiences performances that could live up to the popularity of their respective characters.
There is actually a difference between how the role was brought to the screen, a take that might not have been to your liking, and the quality of a performance. You might not have cared for a darker Superman, but that was the direction chosen for the character — not the actor involved. The DCEU is a universe filled with immense talent, from the heroes to the villains, the sidekicks and the love interests and today, CBR revisits all the movies we have had so far, from Man of Steel to Justice League, to rank the 15 best performances by the DCEU actors.
15. JESSE EISENBERG
A lot of heads turned when Jesse Eisenberg was announced as the DCEU’s Lex Luthor. Many people were taken aback, expecting possibly an older, more seasoned actor to take on the role. But it seems like the powers that be had a very particular idea in mind for what they wanted this universe’s Lex Luthor to be like. And it just so happens that they wanted him to be like Jesse Eisenberg.
Eisenberg brought his usual trademark of wit and defiance, qualities that he has had in most of the roles we have seen him in. His take on Lex Luthor wasn’t different at all. Eisenberg just did what he always does, while upping the menacing factor a hundredfold. Some people loved his take on it, while others loathed it beyond belief. But most did agree on the fact that this Lex Luthor was just Eisenberg in a costume.
14. MICHAEL SHANNON
To start the DCEU, WB introduced Superman as the superhero to build this entire shared world around. But to go up against the likes of this superhero, a villain was needed, one that would need to pose a very real threat to Kal-El, and the entire world. Michael Shannon was the one to bring Zod to life and although he is a great actor, his take on Zod just didn’t manage to have the intended effect.
Never did General Zod come across as genuinely menacing, whether on the Krypton scenes or on Earth. Shannon’s Zod was outshined at every turn by other characters in the film, and nowhere was this more true than when he was in the company of Faora, a villain who managed to emerge as the true fan-favorite of the film.
13. WILL SMITH
Will Smith’s take on Floyd Lawton, aka Deadshot, was very far-removed from the way the character is portrayed in the comics. Sure, he was a hired assassin who cared for his daughter, but nowhere did we see the death wish the character has. In Suicide Squad, Floyd Lawton was basically Will Smith, acting as himself in the DCEU, with a costume and guns.
This Deadshot never really came across as a villain, and it’s clear that he was made to be likeable. Will Smith didn’t get to mine into the character as deep as we would have wanted, and we didn’t get to see the villain at his most despicable. It feels like the character was played on the safe side, for fear of the audience not being able to root for a villain. Luckily, Will Smith doesn’t have to try hard to be likeable.
12. AMY ADAMS
No one is denying that Amy Adams is a wonderful actress. Her turn in Arrival is enough to shut anyone up. But the truth of the matter is that her Lois Lane simply isn’t an actual representation of what the character is supposed to be. In the DCEU, Lois Lane is a character of circumstance, who just appears in and out of nowhere for the sake of the plot.
And it seems that even Adams is aware of that fact. While she does seem to give the role her all, you can’t help but notice that she isn’t exploring the character as much as she would want. Lois Lane is a wonderful character who is both strong and smart and there is no doubt that Amy Adams could give us the ultimate Lois Lane, were she just given the proper chance to shine.
11. JEREMY IRONS
Jeremy Irons didn’t have it easy when he signed on to portray Alfred in the DCEU. In fact, he had to follow in the mighty footsteps of Michael Caine’s iconic and heartfelt turn as Bruce Wayne’s trusted butler in The Dark Knight Trilogy. Irons’ Alfred might not have been as crucial a character as Caine’s, but at least, when he had the chance, Irons truly brought the gravitas when it was needed.
Sure, this Alfred is more dry, and a bit more humorous (as Alfred should be), but he was also able to stand up to Bruce Wayne effortlessly. Irons looks like he has a fun time in the role, which especially showed in his lighter turn in Justice League. The dry British wit was a great addition to Alfred, and we hope to see a lot more of Irons in the role.
10. RAY FISHER
Ray Fisher’s Victor Stone seems to have gotten the short end of the stick when it comes to the theatrical cut of Justice League. Early trailers showed us that we would see Victor before his accident, indicating that we would see him go through some trying hardships. But since every one of those scenes was left on the cutting room floor, much character development was pushed to the side.
And yet, Fisher was still able, from his very first scene, to accurately show us how lost and despondent he was. This might not have been the Cyborg comic book fans expected to see right off the bat, but it made sense, and it instantly showed that Fisher’s Cyborg was human, first and foremost. As the movie progressed, Fisher was allowed to show the funner side of Cyborg, and he easily made us root for him.
9. JARED LETO
Jared Leto’s take on the Joker fell victim to studio interference. We saw from both leaked pictures and the official trailers that his Joker was supposed to have much more of a maniacal presence in Suicide Squad, but instead we only got very few scenes featuring the character – scenes that might not have painted the full picture of this Joker.
While many fans were vocally hateful of this Joker, he was actually the most accurate representation of the comic book Joker yet. Leto disappeared into the character, becoming truly unrecognizable in the role. Regardless of how you ultimately felt about his Joker, there is no denying the fact that the actor truly gave it his all in his search for giving us a villain worthy of the name and legacy of the character.
8. HENRY CAVILL
Anyone who follows Henry Cavill on Instagram or has seen him in interviews knows that the actor embodies the qualities of Superman, inside and out. It’s no wonder the actor was chosen to bring the character to life, and the actor truly proved himself dedicated to the work simply by putting in the physical work to look like he had leaped from the comic book page.
But on top of all of that, Cavill had to downgrade his charm and charisma to bring to life the DCEU’s darker, more brooding Superman. It may not have been the take on Superman fans wanted, but the actor truly brought this sense of turmoil to the character. The fact that he was finally allowed to be the Superman we all wanted in Justice League only showed us how perfect for the character he really was.
7. EZRA MILLER
After a brief cameo in Batman v. Superman, Ezra Miller’s Barry Allen got a starring role in Justice League and instantly, you could tell that the actor was having a blast making The Flash a fun, yet layered character. Miller’s Barry was one of the few bright characters in a dark world, and he was, in some ways, every audience member, meeting the Justice League for the very first time.
The Flash quickly (pun intended) stole the show in the film, and Ezra was entirely responsible for that. Sure, the character was a bit more Wally West than Barry Allen, but the actor made the role entirely his own. He made us feel his insecurities and his awkwardness, and he made us laugh along the way through his sheer excitement – an excitement he carried everywhere, from his interviews to social media.
6. JASON MOMOA
Thanks to pop-culture, Aquaman is a character that had become a bit of a running joke in the DC pantheon of superheroes. For Justice League, WB was looking to shatter these popular beliefs by giving us a very different Aquaman, one who was gritty and serious and regal, all at once. Enter Jason Momoa, who essentially single-handedly rewrote audiences’ expectations of Arthur Curry.
It’s no secret that some character development scenes were cut from Justice League, but that ultimately didn’t matter. As Aquaman, Momoa added much grit to the roster of the superhero team, with a commanding presence that made him stand out of the pack. His character truly felt like a man of both worlds, and he was able to convince the audience that Aquaman wasn’t a joke. Aquaman is just like Momoa – he’s a badass.
5. VIOLA DAVIS
Amanda Waller may not be the biggest name in the DC Universe, but comic fans know her to be a no-nonsense character that is resourceful, determined and strong. She has no powers, and she doesn’t need to. Her mere presence is forceful and commanding enough. To bring Waller to the screen in Suicide Squad, WB couldn’t have hoped for better with Viola Davis.
A renowned actress of her caliber was a fine addition to the cast of the film, and it showed in every scene we saw her in. Viola Davis showed us how frightening she could be with mere words, and the character’s ruthlessness was unmatched thanks to her convincing performance. The characters in the film recognized Waller as a true villain, and Davis made it all the more believable.
4. MARGOT ROBBIE
Margot Robbie faced the daunting task of bringing one of the more popular comic book characters in modern times, a female icon and fan-favorite to many. Expectations were high as the release of Suicide Squad approached, and the actress quickly showed us that she was perfectly cast in the role. As Harley, Robbie brought the deranged, the fun, the crazy and, surprisingly, a whole lot of heart.
It’s no wonder that in a movie with such a big cast, the actress managed to stand out. It wasn’t just because of the character she played, but how she played it. Bringing an unhinged character like Harley Quinn to life isn’t exactly easy, and Robbie truly proved how committed she was to the role. Her presence in Suicide Squad was one that everyone lauded – even those who didn’t care for the movie.
3. BEN AFFLECK
Ben Affleck’s casting as Bruce Wayne was perhaps one of the most controversial in the history of comic book roles. The announcement was met with such vitriol that the actor was facing an uphill battle every step of the way towards the release of Batman v. Superman. But in the movie, it was clear that Affleck was the right choice for the role.
The actor managed to prove all of his naysayers wrong by not only giving a textured and brooding performance, he also managed to emerge as almost a perfect adaptation of the character, both in and out of the bat-costume. Affleck proved so dedicated to the role that now, leading out of Justice League, a lot of fans want him to stick around in the role – when, in the beginning, they called for him to drop out.
2. CHRIS PINE
It wouldn’t be easy to be the male sidekick in a female-fronted film. In Wonder Woman, Steve Trevor only plays second fiddle to Diana Prince and yet, Chris Pine made us care about his character in a way we never could have imagined. As Steve Trevor, Pine was heroic and devoted, an inspiration worthy of standing next to the more-than-inspiring Amazon princess.
Wonder Woman was a beautiful film revered by fans and critics alike, and Pine’s performance as Steve Trevor was just another bright spot in a film filled with highlights. Pine proved a master of his craft by giving fascinating depth to his character, making Steve Trevor truly feel like a human doing his best in a world at its worst, and his heartfelt performance not only made everyone care about his relationship with Diana, it made us all cry when he sacrificed himself.
1. GAL GADOT
Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman was already a fan-favorite by the time the character helped defeat Doomsday in Batman v. Superman, but it wasn’t until her own solo movie that we would see how truly fantastic Gadot was in the role. Thanks to the actress, Diana’s strength, her resolve, her naïveté and her desperation were all palpable. Somehow, she was able to portray human and godly, all at once.
Bringing Wonder Woman to life in modern cinema would always be a challenge, but the actress made it look effortless. As soon as we saw her train, as soon as we understood her plight, felt her losses and felt her love, we knew we were invested in Diana’s story, and it was all thanks to Gal Gadot, who embodied the role to absolute perfection.
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