What’s the one thing that we at CBR love almost as much as comic books? Comic book movies! It’s amazing to see characters we’ve only seen on the printed page brought to life on the silver screen, especially with the advances that have been made in special effects in recent years. Much of the credit for their success goes towards the men and women who work hard to take on the roles. For some actors, superhero roles are just a stop on the way towards more dramatic work, but others have made their career by putting on capes and cowls.
While many of these actors play heroes who fight for justice, it’s kind of ironic how many of them have ended up in the back of police cars. Let’s be clear that the vast majority of superhero actors live upstanding lives, but we’d be lying if we said they all stayed on the right side of prison bars. Some of the actors we’ll be talking about have gotten in minor scrapes with the law while others have done serious prison time. CBR thought it would be interesting to look at the contrast, so here are 15 actors who have a criminal record.
15. ROBERT DOWNEY JR.
There’s absolutely no question that Robert Downey Jr.’s role as Tony Stark (with his superhero identity Iron Man) revived his career. In fact, back in 2006, director Jon Favreau had to fight to hire Downey because Marvel didn’t want him at all. Before Iron Man made Downey one of the richest and most popular actors in Hollywood, he was almost unemployable because of his multiple arrests.
Starting in 1996, Downey was arrested multiple times on drug charges that included marijuana, cocaine and heroin. He claimed he had started taking drugs since he was eight years old and was sent to drug treatment programs multiple times before he finally managed to clean himself up and return to acting with 2003’s The Singing Detective. Thankfully, he’s been able to build a career and become one of Hollywood’s biggest success stories.
14. WESLEY SNIPES
When Wesley Snipes took the title role in 1998’s Blade, he broke new ground in more ways than one. First, Blade was the first of a trilogy of movies about the vampire hunter. Second, it was the first successful Marvel movie released in theaters, paving the way for Marvel’s Cinematic Universe today. Third, it was the first superhero movie with an African-American as the main character. It was Snipes’ most successful movie and made him a superstar, but his personal life took a hit in 2006.
That’s when Snipes was charged with tax fraud. The good news is that he was acquitted of felony tax fraud and conspiracy charges, but a jury convicted him of willfully failing to file tax returns for 1999, 2000 and 2001. He served 28 months of a three-year prison term and was released in 2013.
13. KELSEY GRAMMER
In 2006, Kelsey Grammer became the furry but brilliant superhero Beast in X-Men: The Last Stand. The only other time he played the role was a brief cameo in 2014’s X-Men: Days of Future Past. Grammer is best known for playing Frasier Crane in the TV show Cheers and the spin-off Frasier, but his addictions have threatened to derail his career.
In 1988, Grammer was arrested for drunk driving and having cocaine in his possession. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail but was arrested again in 1990 for cocaine possession. He was fined $500, ordered to perform 300 hours of community service and given three years probation. In 1991, Gammer was caught using cocaine again and given another two years probation.
12. SYLVESTER STALLONE
In 1995, the classic superhero from 2000AD was brought to the screen for the first time in Judge Dredd. Played by Sylvester Stallone, Judge Dredd was a law enforcement officer in a dark future where he served as judge, jury and executioner. While the movie itself received mixed reviews, Stallone used it to enter the ranks of comic book actors, which brings us to his criminal history.
In 2007, while on a trip to Australia, Stallone’s luggage was served by customs and found 48 vials of the human growth hormone Jintropin. Three days after that, when customs officials came to his hotel room in Sydney, he was caught throwing four more vials out of his window. He later pled guilty to importing banned substances into the country, claiming he took the drug for a medical condition and didn’t know it was illegal.
11. TOM HARDY
Tom Hardy has been a rising star in Hollywood for years. As the strong and brilliant Bane in 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises, Tom Hardy brought a great performance and menace to an iconic role but he’s set to cross from supervillain to superhero (or anti-hero, really) in 2018’s Spider-Man spin-off, Venom.
Long before that, Hardy had a taste of criminal life. As a 15-year old in Southwest London, he says he had a peaceful childhood that made him crave excitement, so he acted out until he was arrested for joyriding in a stolen Mercedes. There was a gun in the car, too, which didn’t help when it came to charges. He’s said that his walk on the wild side has led him to play a lot of rough characters, like a feared criminal in 2008’s Bronson.
10. HALLE BERRY
In 2000, X-Men introduced the mainstream public to a new team of superheroes with mutant powers. One of those mutant heroes was Storm, played by Halle Berry as a woman who could control the weather. Berry’s career had an upward trajectory from there, but one incident threatened to derail it all.
In the same year as X-Men, Berry’s car ran a red light and hit another car. Though no one was seriously hurt, Berry was accused of fleeing the area without waiting for police. She claims to have no memory of the accident, but pled no contest and was charged with leaving the scene of an accident, which left her with a sentence of three years’ probation, a court ordered 200 hours of community service and a fine of $13,500.
9. NICOLAS CAGE
There’s a reason Nicolas Cage named his son Kal-El — the man loves his comic books. Not only did he have an extensive comic book collection, he also played Johnny Blaze, who transformed into a fiery motorcycle-riding spirit of vengeance, Ghost Rider, in 2000 and followed up with a sequel in 2012. He was also cast as Superman in a failed project with director Tim Burton.
In 2011, Cage ended up on the wrong side of the law for grabbing his wife’s arm in New Orleans’ French Quarter. When police arrived, they found him pushing his wife, punching cars and even daring the police to arrest him. So they did. He was arrested for suspicion of domestic abuse battery, disturbing the peace and public intoxication.
8. SAMUEL L. JACKSON
When Nick Fury was first introduced in 1963, he was a white, cigar-chomping hero who led the Howling Commandos through World War II. He later became the commander of super-spy agency S.H.I.E.L.D. When Nick Fury made his first appearance in the movies in 2008’s Iron Man, the Ultimate version of Fury was used, played by Samuel L. Jackson.
Jackson wasn’t just a bad mother on the screen but also in real-life. As part of the Civil Rights movement of the ’60s, Jackson had been involved in a plot to hold members of the Morehouse College board of trustees hostage. The goal was to change the school’s curriculum and governance, which did happen. Still, Jackson was convicted of unlawful confinement, a second-degree felony. He paid a price, but everyone benefited in the process.
7. ANTONIO BANDERAS
The pulp superhero Zorro was revived in 1998 with The Mask of Zorro. Played by Antonio Banderas as a drunk who was trained to take over the role of the swashbuckling vigilante, Banderas continued with the role in 2005’s Legend of Zorro. That, combined with other roles like Interview With a Vampire, have made him one of the most popular Spanish actors in Hollywood.
In 1975, the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco died, leading to nationwide unrest. During a protest play where Banderas was dressed as a mime, Banderas was arrested and taken to jail by the police. He was charged with civil unrest, but stood up for his principles. So in this case, his arrest is a badge of honor for Banderas who has continued to fight for freedom in Spain as well as charity work.
6. TIM ALLEN
Tim Allen is best known as a stand-up comedian and for his long-running hit series Home Improvement, but he’s also been a superhero in 2006’s Zoom. In the movie, Allen played a washed-up superhero named Captain Zoom who is brought out of retirement to train a new generation of superheroes. It was a kids’ film, but Allen has a dark past we don’t talk about.
In 1978, Allen was a drug dealer who was arrested at the Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International Airport in Colorado for possession of almost a pound-and-a-half of cocaine. He pled guilty to drug trafficking charges and gave up the names of other drug dealers to get a possible life sentence reduced to a sentence of three to seven years. He only served two years and four months before he was paroled and went on to success.
5. ANTHONY MACKIE
In 2014, Anthony Mackie became one of the few African-American superheroes (besides War Machine) in the Marvel Cinematic Universe when he became the Falcon in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Falcon was Captain America’s sidekick for a long time in the comics so it made sense to bring him into the MCU. As a high-flying soldier, he continued the role in Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man and will be appearing in 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War.
However, in 2013, Anthony Mackie was pulled over in Harlem for having tinted windows, but the police thought he seemed intoxicated. When he refused to take a breathalyzer test, he was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving on a charge of driving while intoxicated. He was given a $555 fine, had his license suspended for 90 days and ordered to attend a drunk driving program.
4. PAUL REUBENS
Paul Reubens is better known by the name of his iconic character Pee-wee Herman, which broken into pop culture with the hit movie Pee-wee’s Big Adventure in 1985. From 1986 to 1990, Reubens starred in the Saturday-morning kid’s show, Pee-wee’s Playhouse. He also took a jump in the comic book world in the 1999 adaptation Mystery Men where he played the flatulence-powered superhero, “the Spleen.”
Of course, Paul Reubens is almost as famous for his arrest for indecency in an adult theater in 1991. The arrest sent shockwaves across the world and led to a dismantling of Pee-wee’s empire with toys pulled off shelves and reruns of Peewee’s Playhouse taken off the air. Reubens pled no contest and was never charged, only given 75 hours of community service in a plea deal.
3. LORI PETTY
In 1995, the manic underground comic book Tank Girl was given its own feature film. Played by Lori Petty, Tank Girl was a hard-rocking, wise-cracking anarchist with a stolen tank in a post-apocalyptic future fighting Malcolm McDowell as the head of a corrupt agency. Though the film was a box office and critical failure, Tank Girl is still praised as a cult movie with a feminist superhero.
In 2009, Lori Petty was apparently rocking too hard in her real life, because she hit a skateboarder with her car. Though the skateboarder suffered only minor injuries, Petty wound up getting arrested for felony drunk driving. The charges were reduced to a misdemeanor DUI and she was sentenced to alcohol abuse counseling and five years probation.
2. WILL SMITH
Will Smith started out as a rapper but made the jump to acting in the ’80s sitcom Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and became one of the most popular actors in Hollywood. He’s played superheroes twice. In 2008, he was the alcoholic superhero in Hancock. In 2016’s Suicide Squad, Smith played the assassin Deadshot, who became a reluctant hero.
In real life, though, Smith was in trouble with the police because of an incident in 1989. Will Smith allegedly got into an argument with a record promoter. Though he denied having anything to do with it, police say Smith ordered his bodyguard to beat up the promoter, who ended up with a fractured left eye orbit that took six stitches. Smith was charged with aggravated assault, recklessly endangering another person, simple assault and criminal conspiracy.
1. JOSH BROLIN
Josh Brolin is an actor whose career has spanned a wide range of roles. He’s been a younger Agent K in 2012’s Men in Black 3 and George W. Bush in 2008’s W. He’s been in a number of comic book adaptations such as Sin City: A Dame to Kill For in 2014 and did the voice and motion capture for Thanos in 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy. In 2010, Brolin took on the titular role of a Western superhero in Jonah Hex and he’ll also be playing the time-traveling mutant Cable in Deadpool 2.
Brolin has had a rough time with the law. In 2004, Brolin was arrested for domestic battery against his wife Diane Lane, but she declined to press charges. In 2008, Brolin was arrested for his involvement in a bar fight, and he was arrested for public intoxication in 2013.
Which actor were you surprised to see on this list? Let us know in the comments!
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