Superheroes have been gracing screens both big and small for decades. The popularity of these characters has ensured that if audiences loved seeing a hero once, the powers that be will make sure they'll see that hero again — and again. Even if a hero doesn’t hit it big on their first screen outing, film and TV studios are often willing to keep trying until they find an angle audiences embrace. In our era of superhero saturation, this is truer than ever. Superhero properties are being rebooted and reimagined at an unprecedented rate, many very successfully.
Each time a reboot happens, new actors are required to portray the super-powered characters that are reintroduced in these stories. And each time, we can’t help but compare the new actors to those who previously embodied our favorite heroes. Sometimes the new actors bring something fresh and interesting to a role, making it their own, and improving upon the previous version. Sometimes the opposite is true and the new actor just can’t live up to the standards set by the previous actor. This can be because the actor is miscast, because they aren’t given a story that lets them truly shine, or because the original actor turned in a performance so iconic, no one could completely replace them. For better or worse, superhero reboots will keep on coming, and more actors will be drawn to these parts. Here’s our list of nine recent superhero roles that were recast for the better, and nine that were recast for the worse.
18 WORSE: JAMES McAVOY AS CHARLES XAVIER
It’s not that James McAvoy or any of the other actors portraying the younger versions of the mutants we grew to know and love in the original X-Men movie trilogy are poor choices. It’s just that the original batch of actors turned in such iconic performances that it’s hard to imagine anyone else in their roles. This is especially true for McAvoy’s Charles Xavier.
His young version shows the character’s turmoil before he becomes the wise, collected mutant portrayed by Patrick Stewart. Unfortunately for McAvoy, playing Charles Xavier is a thankless task because, although McAvoy is great, he just isn’t Stewart.
17 BETTER: ELODIE YUNG AS ELEKTRA
When Jennifer Garner played Elektra in the Ben Affleck-starring Daredevil and then in her own self-titled movie, she was a sleek, leather-clad fighting machine. Garner was more than up to the physical demands of the role, but the character was underwritten in almost every other possible way. There was really nowhere to go but up when Elektra showed up in the second season of the hit Netflix-Marvel series Daredevil.
Elodie Yung’s portrayal didn’t disappoint. As Elektra, she was complex and complicated, violent and vulnerable. The character occupies a grey area between good and evil that’s fascinating to watch and keeps her relationship with Charlie Cox’s Matthew Murdock charged. This is an Elektra that audiences can embrace.
16 WORSE: TYLER HOECHLIN AS SUPERMAN
There was a lot of hype surrounding the announcement that Superman would appear in Supergirl’s second season. And appear he did... for four episodes -- the first two and last two of the season. Obviously, it’s Supergirl’s show and we wouldn’t want her more famous cousin stealing her spotlight. But after all the excitement, Superman’s minimal presence felt disappointing.
While Tyler Hoechlin brought the hope and optimism we expect from Superman, he lacked the screen time to provide the depth Henry Cavill brought to the role in the DCEU’s Man of Steel — or even Dean Cain did in Superman’s last TV outing, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.
15 BETTER: NICHOLAS HOULT AS BEAST
While many of the portrayals of the mutants in the X-Men movies of the early 2000s are iconic, Kelsey Grammer’s turn as Beast in X-Men: The Last Stand was not one of them. Given that Grammer is best-known for his role as the pretentious Frasier Crane, it was difficult to take him seriously running around covered in blue fur fighting bad guys.
While Hank McCoy is also a brilliant, educated scientist, in Grammer’s hands the beastly and intellectual sides of the role didn’t completely mesh. Nicholas Hoult has had far more success in his portrayal of the younger version of the character, playing up the conflict between the beast and the scientist.
14 WORSE: SOPHIE TURNER AS JEAN GREY
Famke Janssen’s depiction of Jean Grey wasn’t completely successful, especially when she became Phoenix in X-Men: The Last Stand. However, her portrayal has had a lasting impact on how audiences imagine the character, which left Sophie Turner with a lot to live up to. So far, she’s only appeared in X-Men Apocalypse, and while the movie hinted at the character's power, she was fairly bland and one-note.
Perhaps this will change when X-Men: Dark Phoenix hits screens early next year. We’re looking forward to re-assessing our opinion of Turner’s performance when that happens. The story arc will certainly give her more to do than she had in her previous outing as Jean Grey.
13 BETTER: TOM HOLLAND AS SPIDER-MAN
Each of the last three actors to play Spider-Man has been great in their own way. Tobey Maguire was thoughtful and sincere, Andrew Garfield was exuberant and joyful, and Tom Holland, the actor playing him in the MCU, is youthful and eager. However, it’s Holland that seems to best embody the character.
While both Maguire and Garfield played the role in stories that showcased the web-slinger’s origin, it’s Holland that actually seems most like an innocent teen who happens to develop superpowers. Plus, his dying scene in Avengers: Infinity War is the signature moment of the movie and expresses all the tragedy of humanity's loss in a way only a teenager could.
12 WORSE: J. K. SIMMONS AS JAMES GORDON
In Justice League, J. K. Simmons dons silly-looking hair to play the role of Gotham’s Police Commissioner Gordon. While Simmons is a great actor, his Gordon doesn’t feel completely lived in, at least not the way the character did when he was portrayed by Gary Oldman in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy.
In Oldman’s hands, the character was weary and hopeful. In Justice League he was a one-dimensional exposition machine. Perhaps if the role was better written and the character more fleshed out, Simmons could do more with the part. Either way, he should lose the silly wig.
11 BETTER: KATE MARA AS INVISIBLE WOMAN
Jessica Alba never seemed like the best option for Sue Storm in the original two Fantastic Four movies. She didn’t really look the part, and yet so much of the movie focused on her looks — ironic for a character whose power is invisibility. Sadly, by her own admission, her ability to act the part seemed beside the point.
While it’s undeniable that the Fantastic Four reboot was a critical and commercial disaster, Kate Mara’s depiction of Sue Storm was still an improvement. At a minimum, the movie viewed her character as more than eye-candy. Ultimately, though, both actresses gave what they could to the role, even if the movies didn’t give them a lot back.
10 WORSE: AMY ADAMS AS LOIS LANE
Amy Adams is one of the best actors working in Hollywood today. She’s shown her range and talent in role after role. Yet, the DCEU movies haven’t given her much to do as Lois Lane. In these movies, Lois is relegated to the girlfriend role and doesn’t have a lot going on beyond that. While nods are made to her persona as a tenacious, award-winning reporter, the movies don’t spend a lot of time fleshing that part of her personality out.
Instead, she mostly exists for the benefit of Superman. In comparison to previous incarnations of Lois, especially Margot Kidder’s iconic portrayal opposite Christopher Reeve, this Lois is simply lacking the spirited independence we typically expect from the character.
9 BETTER: RYAN REYNOLDS AS JUGGERNAUT
Fans cheered when Juggernaut made a surprise appearance in Deadpool 2. Obviously, the makers of the movie knew what a big deal it was to include Juggernaut in their film and they were determined to do the character justice. Not only was this because Juggernaut is one of the most beloved X-Men villains but because his appearance in X-Men: The Last Stand was notoriously awful.
In that movie, Juggernaut, who was played by Vinnie Jones, is mostly known for declaring, “I’m the Juggernaut, b***h!" In Deadpool 2 the man behind the helmet is Ryan Reynolds, who did Juggernaut's voice and facial capture, making for a much more convincing version of the character.
8 WORSE: MICHAEL B. JORDAN AS HUMAN TORCH
Michael B. Jordan is a welcome presence in almost every movie he appears in, which is why his Johnny Storm in the Fantastic Four reboot is such a notable exception. Setting aside the backlash from some fans who objected to seeing a black actor portraying a typically white role, Jordan’s typical charm and charisma were buried under CGI flames.
While Chris Evans's portrayal in the original Fantastic Four movie and its sequel was often cheesy, he was the only one on-screen that seemed to be having any fun. Evans understood what kind of movie he was in and played Johnny accordingly. Now if only someone could make the Fantastic Four really work on the big screen.
7 BETTER: MELISSA BENOIST AS SUPERGIRL
Helen Slater portrayed the Girl of Steel in the 1984 film Supergirl. The film was a box office bomb and Slater’s naïve and innocent portrayal of the title character wasn’t exactly embraced. This left a lot of room for Melissa Benoist when she stepped into Supergirl’s cape in the CW’s TV series.
In Benoist’s hands the character is optimistic but worldly. She brings a nuance to the superhero that enables the show to explore the intricacies of her duel identity as Kara Zor-El and Supergirl. Supergirl is currently the most topical of the Arrowverse shows, and Benoist’s grounded performance helps the show make the fantastic relevant to real life.
6 WORSE: EZRA MILLER AS THE FLASH
Ezra Miller’s Flash in Justice League isn’t so much a re-casting. Really, it's a statement that the Barry Allen audiences have spent hours of time with on TV’s The Flash isn’t worth bringing over to the big screen. It was a perplexing decision when DC made it and even moreso after watching the movie.
The Flash was clearly meant to inject some much-needed levity into the otherwise overly dark and serious DCEU. While the character did provide a few laughs, his unending quipping eventually became over-used and tedious. Meanwhile, Grant Gustin brings a combination of humor and pathos to the role that makes the character resonate. Not including him in Justice League was a lost opportunity.
5 BETTER: STEFAN KAPICIC AS COLOSSUS
Colossus has been seen in several X-Men movies, but he never really stood out. Partially that's because when the original X-Men trilogy came out, CGI effects weren't capable of the same things they are today. And partially that's because Colossus was just another mutant on a large team without a great deal of screen time to show off.
That changed when Colossus became one of the major characters in the Deadpool franchise. As the straight-man to Deadpool and one of the only people who really believe in him, the metal man, as voiced by Stefan Kapicic, was allowed to develop a real personality beyond his mutant powers.
4 WORSE: RUSSELL CROWE AS JOR-EL
Russell Crowe is an Academy Award winner and a fine actor, but Marlon Brando is an acting legend. Crowe couldn’t quite bring the weight to the role of Superman’s father in Man of Steel that Brando could without even trying in 1978’s Superman. Admittedly, Crowe was boxed in by some cheesy settings and plot points.
His Jor-El wasn’t given the opportunity to be the mythic presence in his son’s life that Brando’s version was. While it humanized the character, it also stripped him of the command and wisdom he was previously known for. Jor-El is someone Superman needs to look up to, and Crowe didn’t quite live up to those great expectations.
3 BETTER: EMMA STONE AS GWEN STACY
In Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man trilogy, Gwen Stacy, played by Bryce Dallas Howard, doesn’t appear until the third movie. When she finally shows up, she’s only there to cause conflict in the relationship between Peter Parker and May Jane Watson. It’s an unfortunate use of a character who usually plays a much more significant role in Spider-Man’s story.
Fortunately, that misuse of the character was corrected in The Amazing Spider-Man and its sequel, in which Emma Stone played a more fleshed out version of the character. As Peter Parker’s love interest, she has a much more substantial role in the films as a strong, smart character in her own right.
2 WORSE: AARON TAYLOR-JOHNSON AS QUICKSILVER
In 2014 and 2015, audiences were treated two different interpretations of the mutant Quicksilver. First came Evan Peters’ version in X-Men: Days of Future Past, then Aaron Taylor-Johnson appeared as the character in Avengers: Age of Ultron. In this head-to-head comparison, Peters was the clear winner.
Peters was a blast as the speedster in Days of Future Past and later in X-Men: Apocalypse, and has become a fan favorite. The same can’t be said for Taylor-Johnson. His portrayal was inconsistent; volleying between jokey and angry, he was quickly upstaged by Elizabeth Olson as the character's twin sister, Scarlet Witch. Regardless of preference, though, Age of Ultron’s Quicksilver died, while the X-Men franchise’s version lives on to run another day.
1 BETTER: ANNE HATHAWAY AS CATWOMAN
Three actresses have taken on Catwoman on the big screen in recent memory. Michelle Pfeiffer was spectacular as the character in 1992’s Batman Returns, making audiences desperate to see more of Catwoman. In an object lesson in being careful what you wish for, Halle Berry’s version of the title character in 2004’s Catwoman was panned by critics and audiences alike.
Then came Anne Hathaway’s take on the character in The Dark Knight Rises. As Selena Kyle, she’s tough, clever, and fun to watch. Hathaway redeems the character while giving a realistic, grounded performance that makes it easy to understand why Bruce Wayne would fall for her.