Superheroes have made their marks outside of the panels they have inhabited for the nearly hundred years since their inception. With their continued popularity, superheroes are now in our film and television shows, with no signs of stopping. While Marvel’s Iron Fist showed a chink in the armor of its Netflix series, DC Comics’ Wonder Woman had critical and commercial success that announced it was time for a female-led superhero blockbuster.
In general, the sheer volume of shows and films that featured superheroes this year is astounding. Nearly 18 shows were on air while five films graced the big screen and gave some actors the chance to shine in their roles. Of course, some have unfortunately turned out some of the worst performances of the year. The more content featuring our favorite heroes in tights meant the bigger chance that someone is bound to miss the mark or be miscast entirely. The past year was no exception, as we got some of the most interesting, nuanced and elaborate superhero stories told while still keeping the heart and grace of its source material. We also managed to witness some disastrous results. Here are the worst and best of 2017!
19 FINN JONES AS IRON FIST
This year proved that Marvel’s Netflix series aren’t invulnerable to the scrutiny of its critics and fans. Netflix’s Iron Fist was received poorly for an innumerable amount of reasons. From its poor plot to its one-dimensional characters, the show about a man destined to protect a mythical city with the power of a dragon felt flat and uninspired. It took a story of mystical proportions and tried to fit it into the gritty world that Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage inhabited.
Finn Jones' performance as the young Buddhist billionaire-turned-sworn protector of K’un-Lun felt stiff and wooden. In the role, Jones continuously displayed a spectrum of emotion that wavered from optimistic fool to moody teenager. Jones didn’t do the role any favors by paddling between those two facades and made what should be a launching pad for the Defenders series feel like a filler episode of Naruto.
18 DAVID THEWLIS AS ARES
Wonder Woman was a smash success from the audience to the critics deservedly praising it as one of the best superhero films ever made, let alone of 2017. It took the hellish landscape of World War I and re-contextualized its narrative of men fighting off the forces of evil in Europe by telling Wonder Woman’s origin. In so doing, it pitted a young Wonder Woman against the war that boiled over onto Themyscira and took one of Diana’s loved ones.
As incredible as the majority of the film was, it did falter in the third act with the revelation that Ares, God of War, had been manipulating the war all along. Though David Thewlis played an exceptional Sir Patrick Morgan, his Ares left a lot to be desired. Instead of a frightening depiction of Ares, it was a CGI disaster with Thewlis emoting a cartoony and almost laughable Scooby Doo villain rather than Wonder Woman’s antagonist.
17 DAVID WENHAM AS HAROLD MEACHUM
It's probably no surprise that a few of the actors from Netflix’s Iron Fist were going to be on this list. If you have a protagonist without a rich character personality, then his antagonist will only reflect the worst qualities of the hero or heroes. It leaves them with little to work with. What could have potentially been a venomous and frightening Harold Meachum was instead just your run-of-the-mill villain.
Wenham’s performance only reflected those characteristics and as the show progressed his acting became stranger. The lack of impulse control that his character developed manifested in Wenham as these odd ticks that made for an uncomfortable watch for all the wrong reasons. Before that, he mostly came off as a nagging father instead of an actual threat.
16 ANSON MOUNT AS BLACK BOLT
Yes, Marvel’s Inhumans did not take off the way the studio was hoping it would. Even with a former Game of Thrones star and the fact that its first two episodes filmed for IMAX couldn’t save the show from the harsh criticism it received. It didn’t seem likely that it would reach the same popularity that Marvel’s merry mutants had with audiences. It flopped big time, but offered up a lighter, fun take on the Inhumans.
The problem was its cast couldn’t make up for the unfavorable light the plot cast on the Royal family. Anson Mount’s acting was unfortunately wooden despite having to communicate as much as he could through mere body language and facial expressions. At times, it felt as though the director would tell him to dial up his emoting past the melodramatic performances on other ABC shows.
15 CHLOE BENNET AS DAISY/QUAKE
This may be a controversial ranking as Bennet’s Daisy/Quake on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is one of the show's most beloved characters. She’s attempted to do the right thing, but always gets caught up in her own agenda that she rarely ever sets out to be the altruistic symbol she can truly be. It’s such a shame because her potential is thwarted by such obvious behavior and decision-making that are mostly for the plot.
This makes it hard for Chloe Bennet to truly showcase her skills, since she has to stick to the same routine emotionally. The limitations on her character limit her range and left a lot to be desired over the past year. Instead, we have the potential for an incredible heroine to truly come into her own rather than the real deal.
14 RAMON RODRIGUEZ AS BAKUTO
Bakuto was another antagonist introduced in the Netflix’s Iron Fist who could have really illustrated the blurred lines between good and evil in the show, but instead he was turned into a plot twist. It needs to be emphasized that an actor needs good material to try to perform well. In this case, Rodriguez did try, to the best of his ability, to embody the role of a suave and calculated villain that can twist the moral compass of good people.
Rodriguez isn’t completely blameless in his portrayal. He commits to this odd cadence that straddles between the villain of a Justice League Action episode and a creepy uncle. The threat he imposes is lost in that performance and that didn’t change when he showed back up on Marvel’s The Defenders.
13 LYRICA OKANO AS NICO MINORU
Marvel’s Runaways is a rough adaptation of the beloved comic series by Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona. Runaways is a series that follows the children of supervillains who must find a way to stop their parents from inflicting their terror on the world. Now, this can be considered an obvious premise, but during the heyday of its original comic book run, it was original and exciting.
The show tries to make a Freeform style adaptation of the series and with the addition a friend’s death, it makes for some needless melodramatic tension. The character who died was the sister of Lyrica Okano’s Nico Minoru. Obviously, the death of a close loved one would make anyone moody -- especially a teenager -- but Lyrica’s lashing out seems disingenuous. Instead of portraying grief, particularly the anger stage, as a nuanced part of healing, Lyrica doesn’t emote much more than rage. It makes it hard to sympathize with her pain.
12 SIGOURNEY WEAVER AS ALEXANDRA
Yes, this is Sigourney Weaver and she’s an incredible talent who has become a pop culture staple in her role as Ellen Ripley in the Alien movies, but she did not find that same luck here. Marvel’s Defenders was supposed to be the equivalent event to 2008’s Avengers, but it struggled to find its pace and used witty banter between its heroes in place of actual character development.
This, unfortunately, left Weaver with a rigid and vanilla character that never evoked the danger that inspired The Defenders’ fear. Though, she did have her moments where she broke through and let us remember why she is the superstar she is. Unfortunately, these occassions were so few and far between that it sifted off the little on-screen power she had in boring monologues about transience. It honestly seemed like she didn’t enjoy the material, and it showed.
11 BEN AFFLECK AS BRUCE WAYNE/BATMAN
With the new Justice League film out, the internet has found an update to the infamous Sadfleck meme that came out of the press tour of Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Despite the hype behind the film of finally having a cinematic version of the Justice League, it still didn’t earn the success of its competitor’s counterpart. Still bogged down by poor writing and differentiating tones, it’s no surprise that it didn’t hit it big.
This is only Ben Affleck’s second attempt at the caped crusader, but he still misses the mark. In his initial appearance, Bruce Wayne was dark and serious, but in this film he found a smirk that he kept throughout his performance. It makes for a confusing personality change. Was he supposed to be mysterious or quippy? It’s a such a shame, but it did make for some funny one-liners despite its shifting tone.
10 TOM FELTON IN THE FLASH
CW’s The Flash can be frustrating to watch. Its Barry Allen can be egotistical and annoying, which feeds off to the other characters. Though the addition of Tom Felton’s Julian in the series was a wonderful surprise. He was smart with a b.s. detector that always seemed to guide the characters to better decisions throughout the season.
Tom Felton is best known for playing Draco Malfoy, but in this role he found good use of his experience as the petulant bully from the Harry Potter series. It seemed like it would be it, but he managed to find a warmth to his crassness. When he was on-screen, opposite Danielle Panabaker, there was a chemistry that wasn’t felt by the other leads. Felton had a natural charisma that fit right into the tone of the superhero series and it’s a shame he didn’t return for the new season.
9 SIMONE MISSICK AS MISTY KNIGHT
Netflix’s The Defenders had a lot of problems. It tried to recapture the fun and adventure of The Avengers in the television series while maintaining the feel of each character’s show. It clashed hard, but the show was a direct continuation of the critically-panned Iron Fist. Even with its problems, Defenders still managed to find a place for some of its characters to shine.
Simone Missick’s Misty Knight was a welcome addition to the Luke Cage series. Her presence in The Defenders felt similar. Missick was still the no-nonsense detective of her previous appearance and she never missed a step stacked against the stars of the series. She always felt in command of her material. At times, it felt as though Missick understood her character better than its leads and it’ll be interesting to see her evolution in the future Luke Cage seasons.
8 TOM HOLLAND AS PETER PARKER/SPIDER-MAN
This year, Marvel Studios had the chance to show what they would do with ol' web-head back in the creative control of its dedicated film studio. Peter Parker shined brighter than audiences had seen in a long time and people fell in love with him all over again. This is especially difficult considering that the character has been played by Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire.
Though Tom Holland had no trouble stepping into the shoes of the web-slinger as he proved in his debut in Spider-Man: Homecoming. Holland’s charm and energy pulled him through scenes of character development that might not have gone as well without the young Brit at the helm. He had the perfect Parker delivery when it came time to shoot quips at the criminals of New York City. He was the Spider-Man we both needed and deserved.
7 ROSARIO DAWSON AS CLAIRE TEMPLE/NIGHT NURSE
There is a thread that ties all the Netflix superhero shows and that’s Rosario Dawson’s Claire Temple (aka, Night Nurse). She is the unofficial fifth member of the Defenders and is always finding a way to save them. Her character has had the most seasons to grow as the others and she is always level-headed in her approach to the dangerous situations she finds herself or the heroes in.
Dawson’s portrayal of Claire Temple is one of the unsung heroes of the entire street-level part of the Marvel Universe. She never flares up her emotions for the melodramatic low-hanging fruit. Her calm collectedness while worrying about the people she cares about never feels like an uneasy contrast. Dawson toes this line extremely well and convinces the audience that she’s in control of what’s happening even when all hope seems lost.
6 PATRICK STEWART AS PROFESSOR X
This year we got a chance to witness the potential superhero comics have when the right creative team adapts their source material well. It accomplished what Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy had by not simply making a darker version of its source material. Instead, it engaged with the trauma of Logan’s character. It utilized this to show compassion toward these characters we love in a way we hadn’t before.
Professor X no longer had control of his powers in Logan. He had to be taken to a place far away from people because his status as an Omega-Level mutant made him a serious threat to humanity. Patrick Stewart is a genius. His performance of the former leader of the X-Men was heartbreaking. The kindness that a flash of Stewart’s eyes could express was only topped by his lashing out when was unaware of who he was.
5 DAFNEE KEEN AS LAURA/X-23
Another incredible performance from the Logan cast was Dafnee Keen’s X-23/Laura. During a time when superhero stories are being experimented on the small screen, this was an exercise in reflection and loss on the big one. Keen was quiet and reserved when she needed to be a child, but when her character had to use her anger for survival, it came out in a fury.
Keen used the uninhibited version of Logan’s berserker rage and let it brew before it was switched on completely. Sometimes anger can feel feigned on screen because it could be used for plot purposes, but it never felt that way with Keen. It was an organic process because she was still childlike, despite the severe trauma she experienced. It made us sympathize with her when she violently murdered those around her.
4 DAN STEVENS AS DAVID HALLER/LEGION
Legion is a show that strayed from the comic book characterization of its protagonist, but made something richer in the process. An Omega-level mutant with psychic abilities and schizophrenia can only be an equation for one of the best superhero stories of the year. With that in mind (so to speak), it can be a daunting task to portray a character that’s so powerful yet so out of control, but Dan Stevens was up for the task.
Stevens’s David Haller never seems to fully grasp the situation he finds himself in. He is constantly learning throughout the series while trying to find ground to be normal. There’s a look that Stevens gives that just can’t be trusted. It lets the audience feel like they can’t possibly comprehend what he will do next. It’s an internal struggle his character must contend with and is hard to accomplish, but Stevens does it... and then some.
3 JON BERNTHAL AS FRANK CASTLE/THE PUNISHER
The Punisher series had a hard time with critics. It didn’t do as poorly as Iron Fist did, but it was only a notch above it. It used the popularity of Daredevil’s second season to launch its own spinoff. What the show did better than its predecessors was cut the melodrama down to something that matched its grit. It depicted how Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can affect people in three different ways.
One of these was Jon Bernthal’s Frank Castle. He brought his performance from Daredevil and built something special on it. He’s quiet, and always portrays that pain that Frank feels even during times when he cracks a smile. The moments he’s happiest are marked by the loss of his family and Bernthal uses that anger to explode when necessary. It is a performance that needs to be re-examined by critics because it's more subtle than it appears.
2 GAL GADOT AS DIANA/WONDER WOMAN
This year was the year we got a Wonder Woman feature film and goodness did we need it! After the critical failures of the other two DC Comics films, the DC Extended Universe needed a break. That break came in Patty Jenkins' Wonder Woman. The film pitted Diana against the ugliness of war that ravages humanity, especially when it crossed over to Themyscira and claimed its purity as a society as a casualty.
Gadot’s portrayal of the young Wonder Woman was filled with charisma and fascination. She embodied the role with poise and curiosity when she assimilated to the society Diana was hiding within. When she needed to inspire hope and resilience in the wave of bullets flying at her, she fought with courage. Yet, she still performed with a vulnerability that is hard to conjure on the screen, especially in regards to an unbeatable superhero. She was just incredible.
1 HUGH JACKMAN AS LOGAN/WOLVERINE
In a year with great films and profound performances, it’s hard to choose the top spot, but this year we got Logan. It gave audiences the opportunity to enjoy a film that seemed bleak and frightening. The trick of the film was its sense of hope despite the odds against the protagonist. This gave Hugh Jackman a foundation for something a superhero film hasn’t had in a long time. This was an opportunity for an Oscar-worthy performance.
Wolverine is a character that Jackman has had two decades of portraying and it was mesmerizing to watch. Logan has always been a deeply flawed character that just couldn’t leave the past behind. Here, Jackman had the chance to really flex the acting chops he used in films like Prisoners and The Fountain, playing Logan as defeated, but with one last chance to save the world one more time.