There have been hundreds of actors over the years who have taken on roles in superhero films. While there are quite a few who are dominating the genre these days thanks to the success of the MCU, there are certainly some you may have forgotten. Over the years, people change and they don’t much resemble the characters they once played. Now, we aren’t going to be talking about how some folks may have packed on a few pounds where they wouldn’t want to or the simple fact that they have aged — the last thing we want to do is body shame — but the fact remains that, like many comic books, characters change their overall look, making them unrecognizable from when they first started.
For this list, we are taking a look back at some of our favorite characters and the actors and actresses who played them. How did they change physically and what direction did their careers take after they hung up the tights? Without getting too far into the weeds on their physical differences from the characters they have played, these actors and actresses have changed such that they are unrecognizable from the roles they once played. These are questions we want to answer in this examination of 15 superhero movie actors you would never recognize Today.
15. ALEC BALDWIN AS THE SHADOW
These days, most people recognize Alec Baldwin as a parody of President Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live, but there was a time when the talented actor wore a cape and a hat as the radio show superhero, The Shadow. If you had no idea he starred as a superhero, don’t feel bad; 1994’s, The Shadow is not a well-remembered flick. Baldwin played the title character and his alter ego, Lamont Cranston, but he kept much of his face concealed throughout the film.
Now, more than a quarter-century later, Mr. Baldwin doesn’t look much like he did back in 1994. Most would characterize him as incredibly dapper these days and he certainly looks great in a suit and tie. That said, he remains an amazing actor in both serious and comedic roles, having nailed his performance as Jack Donaghy on the NBC sitcom 30 Rock, which earned him two Emmys.
14. ANNA PAQUIN AS ANNA MARIE/ROGUE
While many people give credit to 2008’s Iron Man as the film that helped launch the modern superhero movie genre, that’s only true of the MCU. A more general credit goes to 2000’s X-Men. One of the main reasons for the success of that film (besides Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine) was Anna Paquin’s performance as Anna Marie, aka Rogue. Rogue was one of the central characters of the plot and she remained through many of the sequels.
Since that first X-Men film was released, Paquin has been taking Hollywood by storm… not that she hadn’t already done so at the age of 11, when she won an Academy Award for her role in The Piano. She went on to star in HBO’s True Blood and has won numerous awards over the years. She has matured into an elegant and talented woman who no longer resembles the young southern Mutant from the beginning of the X-Men franchise.
13. ELIAS KOTEAS AS CASEY JONES
Real fans of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles know that they are nothing without their large cast of support characters. There’s April O’Neal, Master Splinter and of course, Casey Jones. Jones is a hockey-mask wearing vigilante who uses a variety of sports equipment as weapons, but tends to favor a hockey stick. He was perfectly portrayed by Elias Koteas in the 1990 adaptation of the comics and its two sequels, but few see him today and make the connection.
These days, Koteas is best known for playing Detective Alvin Olinsky on Chicago P.D., a role he has had for years. He no longer sports the long hair and hockey mask of the violent vigilante, but he has continued to work regularly in Hollywood. You may have noticed him in films including Now You See Me and Shutter Island.
12. WESLEY SNIPES AS BLADE
While the modern superhero movie movement has given us some amazing characters, the very first successful Marvel character to make it to the big screen was none other than Wesley Snipes’ Blade. Snipes played the character for three films and throughout the franchise, he cultivated a distinctive look, which was both reminiscent of the Marvel character’s comic book adaptation and unique to the actor.
Since leaving the series, Snipes’ career took a bit of a turn when he was convicted of Income Tax Evasion in 2008 following allegations and charges made two years previous. He was released from federal prison in 2013 and he appeared thinner and a bit warier than when he went in. Fortunately, he returned to acting with a stint in The Expendables 3 and doesn’t appear to be slowing down.
11. TOBEY MAGUIRE AS PETER PARKER/SPIDER-MAN
When he was first cast in the role of Peter Parker for Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man adaptation of the character in 2001, many thought he didn’t have the right look for the character. He surprised everyone by nailing the “superhero body” you can see in the picture above. Maguire packed on some serious muscle-mass to take on the friendly neighborhood wall-crawler and many fans believe he did an amazing job with the character.
Since leaving the series, Maguire hasn’t let himself go, by any means, but he has let the gained muscle mass fall from his physique. He has continued to work with critically-acclaimed performances in films including The Great Gatsby and Seabiscuit among others. To be fair, he is still recognizable as the character, but now sports facial hair and has a more mature look.
10. VAL KILMER AS BRUCE WAYNE/BATMAN
Val Kilmer’s successes in the 1980s and ’90s helped him land one of the biggest roles Hollywood had to offer in 1995: the role of none other than Bruce Wayne, the Batman! Batman Forever is not considered to be one of the best films in the series, but many fans enjoyed Kilmer’s take on the character of the Dark Knight. Kilmer opted to not return for the following film, Batman & Robin due to his belief that the main character was being overshadowed by the villains.
Since leaving the franchise, Kilmer starred in a number of big-budget Hollywood films, but he failed to attach himself to another property with the popularity and large fan-base of Batman. He has continued to work in film and has even made the jump over to television having voiced the car, KITT, on the 2008 Knight Rider television movie.
9. LOU FERRIGNO AS THE INCREDIBLE HULK
Back in the ’80s, just about everyone who knew who Lou Ferrigno was only ever saw him with green-tinted skin. His portrayal as The Incredible Hulk on the television series helped define his acting role, which still gets him gigs at comic book conventions where fans are eager to meet him. While he has had a successful career acting, Ferrigno is, at heart, a bodybuilder.
Now in his ’60s, you might think that Mr. Ferrigno wouldn’t look much like he did back in ’77 when the series began, but you might be surprised. He doesn’t have the same level of muscle-bulk that helped him land the role, but he is in much better shape than just about every writer we have on staff! He may not look like he did in the series any longer, but that’s mostly due to the lack of green paint and hair-dye.
8. AARON TAYLOR-JOHNSON AS DAVE LIZEWSKI/KICK-ASS
If you’ve ever seen the film adaptation of Kick-Ass, you probably remember the title character as a scrawny kid with wiry hair. That’s pretty much what Aaron Taylor-Johnson looked like back then and while he was in great shape as a younger man, he has only added to his physique as an adult. Taylor-Johnson came back to reprise his role in Kick-Ass 2 only a few years later, but he had matured pretty noticeably in that time.
Since leaving Kick-Ass, Taylor-Johnson kept up his superhero acting chops by playing Quicksilver in Avengers: Age of Ultron, but didn’t stop there. He has acted in films including Godzilla and Nocturnal Animals, but he no longer looks like the skinny kid who lashed out at people wearing a wetsuit as Dave Lizewski in Kick-Ass.
7. CHLOË GRACE MORETZ AS MINDY MACREADY/HIT-GIRL
When Chloë Grace Moretz took on the role of Hit-Girl in 2010’s Kick-Ass, she was only 12 years old. Though she appeared as a cute, innocent young girl, some of the foulest language she has ever uttered in her career came out of her mouth in that movie and we are too much of a family-oriented site to print those here. That being said, her performance as the little foul-mouthed assassin helped to establish her already growing career and she has only build up her resume from there.
These days, Moretz looks nothing like she did at such a young age, but she is also taking on roles appropriate for someone with her skill as an actress. She has held prominent roles in Brain on Fire, I Love You, Daddy, November Criminals, and The Widow, and has four credited film roles being released in 2018 alone.
6. MICHAEL KEATON AS BRUCE WAYNE/BATMAN
Tim Burton and Warner Brothers Pictures took a lot of heat when they cast Michael Keaton as Batman in 1989. Few believed the actor, who had previously done mostly comedic roles, could take on the Dark Knight. He proved all the haters wrong and gave us one of the best performances of the character to date. It didn’t hurt that he starred alongside Jack Nicholson’s Joker, but he certainly brought a lot to the film on his own.
Younger readers may only know of his superhero work from his performance as the Vulture in Spider-Man: Homecoming, but he has starred in dozens of movies over the years. While he no longer has the youthful look he had when he played Batman, Keaton still creates a dominating presence on any film he finds himself in and thanks to his success, he won’t be going away anytime soon.
5. MICKEY ROURKE AS MARV
When it comes to defining someone as a superhero, most people would skip over the character Marv from the Sin City films. Sure, he’s incredibly violent and doesn’t shy away from mutilating someone, but he does it all in the name of justice, so we like to think of him as a crazed vigilante who is just a bit more detached than the likes of Frank Castle. In the films, Marv is portrayed by the talented Mickey Rourke.
To play the character, Rourke had to wear some prosthesis, so he doesn’t look exactly like the character in real life, but his overall look has changed since he first took on the role. Rourke has since landed award-winning roles in films including The Wrestler and even returned to the genre in Iron Man 2, where he played Ivan Vanko, an amalgam of Whiplash and the Crimson Dynamo.
4. LIAM NEESON AS DARKMAN
Only true fans of Sam Raimi and Liam Neason likely recall the time he played a bonafide superhero. Darkman is one of those films people might look at and say it’s a superhero film or they might say it isn’t, but for most fans of the film, it’s all about the genre. The film was released in 1990 and it starred Leeson as the titular hero named Dr. Peyton Westlake. In the film, Neeson’s character was badly injured and left for dead, but he embarks on a bloody vengeance against those who wronged him with enhanced strength, an ability to withstand pain and false faces he uses to disguise himself.
Liam Neeson has moved away from the superhero genre since starring in Darkman. He went on to play Oscar Schindler in Schindler’s List and is probably best known these days for playing the unforgiving Bryan Mills in the Taken trilogy.
3. DOLPH LUNDGREN AS FRANK CASTLE/THE PUNISHER
Dolph Lundgren has had a long and successful career in Hollywood, but with all of his roles, most probably don’t recall that he was the first to play The Punisher. The film was released in 1989 and it didn’t perform well at the box office, nor has it achieved much of a cult following since. While the film wasn’t the greatest, Lundgren’s take on the character was dark and well-received among fans.
Since playing the Marvel vigilante, Lundgren’s career has seen him take on some iconic roles over the years. He stood opposite Jean-Claude Van Damme in Universal Solders and has gone on to be a major player in the Expendables films. He will even reprise his most recognized role of Ivan Drago in the upcoming sequel to Creed.
2. BILLY ZANE AS THE PHANTOM
While most people recognize Billy Zane from his role in films including Titanic and Back to the Future and its sequel, he has dipped his toe in the superhero genre. Zane played the titular hero in 1996’s The Phantom. For most of the film, he was covered head-to-toe in the purple costume, but you get a good look at him in shots like the one above-left. Zane played the character well, but the film was poorly received and failed to achieve much attention when it was released.
Since starring in that film, Zane has continued to work steadily in Hollywood with roles in dozens of movies. He played himself in Zoolander 2 and played King Balek in 2017’s Samson. These days, he doesn’t look much like he did back in The Phantom, but he has certainly retained his good looks and charming smile.
1. CHRIS EVANS AS JOHNNY STORM/THE HUMAN TORCH
We know what you’re thinking: Chris Evans looks just like he did back when Fantastic Four was released in 2005… except maybe for the beard. The reason we are including him here has everything to do with the massive and impressive muscle mass he packed on to play the role of Captain America. If you go back and watch Fantastic Four and its sequel, Evans was already in great shape, but his size at the time pales in comparison to his current physique.
To prepare for the role, he worked out and dieted so much, he dropped his body fat percentage to around 10%. When Hayley Atwell first saw him with his shirt off and she touched his peck, that wasn’t in the script: she was just so surprised at how toned he was, she had to reach out and touch him… and can you blame her?
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