Landing a role in a comic book movie is a big deal in Hollywood today. These films rake in huge bucks at the box office, and the stars in them have padded their bank accounts and become household names.
While most actors only get the chance to play one comic book character throughout their careers, others have locked down multiple superhero roles. For some, it’s all about living out their comic book dreams. For others, it’s a way to fatten up their portfolios.
Ben Affleck portrayed one of his favorite comic book characters in 2003’s Daredevil. While playing the title character, he wore contact lenses to make him “blind.” The actor didn’t like the final result. “By playing a superhero in Daredevil, I have inoculated myself from ever playing another superhero,” he said at the 2006 London premiere of Hollywoodland.
Despite that prediction, several years later, Affleck found himself back in the superhero game in 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The movie was a global hit with $873.6 million earned at the box office. Affleck stepped down as Batman for good following 2017’s Justice League.
Michael B. Jordan
Michael B. Jordan portrayed Human Torch in the 2015 reboot of Fantastic Four. Jordan spoke with former Human Torch Chris Evans about the character. “I did get a chance to talk to Chris [Evans] about it. I met him at this event, and he was basically like, ‘Man I can’t give you anything. You’re great,'” Jordan told The Source Magazine.
In 2018, Jordan became the ruthless villain Killmonger in Black Panther. He will reprise the role in the forthcoming What If…? series on Disney+. Before this, Jordan lent his voice to Cyborg in 2013’s Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox.
In the original Spider-Man film trilogy, J.K. Simmons helped bring J. Jonah Jameson to life. Before Simmons was cast, actors R. Lee Ermey and Dennis Farina were eyed for the role. For many, Simmons was the ideal choice as the Daily Bugle’s editor-in-chief.
In 2017, he played Commissioner James Gordon in Justice League. The role was originally offered to Bryan Cranston, who turned it down. This was Simmons’ third pairing with Ben Affleck, following 2009’s Extract and 2016’s The Accountant. Simmons was slated to reprise the role in the Justice League sequel, but the film has been put on hold.
Samuel L. Jackson
Samuel L. Jackson had no choice but to portray Nick Fury in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In 2001, his likeness was used for the Ultimate version of Nick Fury in the comic books.
Although the world knows Jackson for portraying the S.H.I.E.L.D. member, he was also part of another comic book movie. In 2008, he portrayed the character Octopus in The Spirit, which is based on Will Eisner’s series of the same name. The film was in development since the ’70s. Unfortunately, all eyes were on Iron Man, which debuted months before its release.
While he was famous for comedy hits in the ’80s, Michael Keaton was truly immortalized with his portrayal of Batman. Many critics didn’t think he was right for the gig because of his previous work, but Keaton managed to beat out A-listers like Kevin Costner and Tom Selleck for the role and proved all those critics wrong.
In 2017, Keaton entered the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Vulture in Spider-Man: Homecoming. His performance earned him a Saturn Award nomination. The actor had no problems returning to superhero movies after Batman. “It’s just a thing. A gig. I don’t mean it’s just a gig, it’s the next job,” Keaton told Vulture.
Rocky star Dolph Lundgren played the role of Frank Castle in 1989’s The Punisher. Michael Paré was originally in talks for the lead role, but the actor dropped out. Because of his background in martial arts, Lundgren did most of his own stunts. A sequel was in the works, but Lundgren walked away from the project before it happened.
Nearly 30 years after The Punisher, the actor stepped into the world of Aquaman. In the 2018 film, he played King Nereus, who rules the Atlantean tribe Xebel. The actor hasn’t confirmed if he will take part in Aquaman 2, which releases on December 16, 2022.
Game of Thrones star Peter Dinklage played the role of Bolivar Trask in X-Men: Days of Future Past. His award-winning work on the HBO series led to his casting for the part. Trask was originally written for 2000’s X-Men, but those plans were scrapped by the studio.
In 2018, Dinklage became Thor’s ally Eitri in the blockbuster Avengers: Infinity War. In the comics, Eitri was king of the Dwarves of Nidavellir. Casting Dinklage for the part was a match made in heaven for Marvel fans. There’s no word if Eitri will return for the forthcoming Thor: Love and Thunder film.
Michelle Pfeiffer has plenty of beloved roles, but most people still talk about her portrayal of Selina Kyle (Catwoman). A former dating relationship with Michael Keaton prevented Pfeiffer from playing Vicki Vale in 1989’s Batman. Fortunately, she nabbed the Catwoman role in Batman Returns after Annette Bening dropped out due to pregnancy.
In 2018, Pfeiffer portrayed Janet van Dyne in the summer hit Ant-Man and the Wasp. In the comic books, Janet was the original Wasp. Surprisingly, this was the first time Pfeiffer and Michael Douglas worked together during their long careers. Pfeiffer reprised her role in Avengers: Endgame.
Ray Stevenson stepped into the shoes of Frank Castle in 2008’s Punisher: War Zone. This film was a reboot of 2004’s The Punisher. To get ready, the actor read every single issue of The Punisher MAX that was available. He also lent his voice to the character in one episode of The Super Hero Squad Show.
Three years later, Stevenson portrayed Volstagg in Thor, which reunited him with director Kenneth Branagh. For his performance, Stevenson wore a fat suit. “He’s Falstaff with muscles. I’ve got this amazing foam-injected undersuit that flexes with me,” Stevenson told Empire. The actor stuck around and reprised the role in Thor: Ragnarok.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan
As a fan of The Walking Dead, Jeffrey Dean Morgan was thrilled to portray Negan on the show. Critics and fans alike can’t get enough of him whenever he’s around with Lucille in hand. His performance earned him two Saturn Awards for Best Guest Performance in a Television Series. Outside the show, he voiced Negan in Robot Chicken.
Morgan has also showcased his love of comic books through movies. In 2009, he portrayed The Comedian in Watchmen. The following year, he appeared in The Losers and Jonah Hex. In 2016, he played Thomas Wayne in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
In 2005, Djimon Hounsou portrayed Papa Midnite in the film adaptation of Constantine. In the comic books, Papa Midnite is a shaman with his own New York nightclub. Depending on the situation, he could be either a friend or an enemy to John Constantine.
In 2014, Hounsou broke into the MCU as Korath the Pursuer in Guardians of the Galaxy. Five years later, he reprised the role in Captain Marvel. Hounsou became The Wizard Shazam in Shazam, which was also released in 2019. The actor lent his voice to Black Panther in the Marvel superhero’s 2010 animated series.
Karl Urban brought a solid performance with his version of Judge Dredd in the 2012 film Dredd. Although fans didn’t love Sylvester Stallone’s Judge Dredd film, they were pleased with Urban’s performance. Unlike Stallone, Urban never took the helmet off, which kept it true to the comics.
In 2017, Urban portrayed Hela’s henchman Skurge in Thor: Ragnarok. Urban can also be seen as Billy Butcher in the hit Amazon Video series The Boys. The show, which is based on the Dynamite Entertainment series, follows individuals with a strong hatred toward superheroes. The series has been confirmed for a second season.
In 2010, Idris Elba played Roque in The Losers, directed by Sylvain White. In comic books, Roque has an array of knives at his disposal. This film teamed him up with future MCU star Chris Evans. Before The Losers, Elba worked with producer Joel Silver on RocknRolla and The Reaping.
The following year, Elba portrayed Asgardian sentry Heimdall in Thor. His casting divided Marvel fans, but they appreciated his performance in the end. His last movie as Heimdall was Avengers: Infinity War. In 2021, he has another comic book role in The Suicide Squad. The movie is currently shooting in Atlanta.
Beloved actor Sam Elliott portrayed General Thaddeus Ross in 2003’s Hulk. Although most actors read a script before accepting a role, Elliott did the opposite. He wanted to work with director Ang Lee so much, he accepted the part on the spot.
In 2007, Elliott played Carter Slade in Ghost Rider. In the comic books, Carter Slade was the original Ghost Rider for its 1967 debut. After Marvel brought in Ghost Rider in 1972, they changed Slade’s name to Phantom Rider. Elliott’s version is a cross between Slade and Caretaker, who was a member of The Blood in the comics.
Jon Favreau helped usher in the MCU as Happy Hogan in 2008’s Iron Man. Aside from playing the character, Favreau directed the film. More importantly, he chose Robert Downey Jr. to portray Iron Man. He extended his work on the film by doing motion capture work for the Iron Man suit.
Before the MCU, Favreau played Foggy Nelson in 2003’s Daredevil. Nelson is Matt Murdock’s legal partner and his closest friend. Unlike Iron Man, Daredevil didn’t receive praise for its final product. Both Happy Hogan’s and Foggy Nelson’s roles had Favreau playing the best friend to the superhero.
Tommy Lee Jones
In 1995, Tommy Lee Jones played Batman villain Two-Face in Batman Forever. Billy Dee Williams, who played Harvey Dent in 1989’s Batman, had a contract clause for his return as Two-Face, but the studio decided to buy out his contract so Jones could take over the role instead.
Two years later, Jones got the neuralizer ready as Agent K in Men in Black. This spawned a successful film franchise for Jones. In 2011, he played Colonel Chester Phillips in Captain America: The First Avenger. Just like the comics, Phillips wants Steve Rogers as the first test subject for the super soldier serum.
In 2012, Tom Hardy became Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. For this role, the actor gained 30 pounds of muscle. Hardy based Bane’s voice on bare-knuckle boxer Bartley Gorman. The actor’s performance earned him MTV Movie Award nominations for Best Villain and Best Fight.
Six years later, Hardy turned into iconic Spider-Man villain Venom. He took the role because of his son Louis’ love for the character. “He was pretty much in the driving seat for a lot of it,” Hardy told Entertainment Tonight. In 2020, Hardy will reprise the character for Venom 2, directed by Andy Serkis.
Doug Jones is one of Hollywood’s greatest actors you’ve never actually seen. In 2004, he took on the role of Abe Sapien in Hellboy and then reprised the role for 2008’s Hellboy II: The Golden Army and two direct-to-video animated films that earned him a Fangoria Award for Best Supporting Actor.
In 2007, Jones became Marvel superhero Silver Surfer for Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. This film combined Jones’ motion capture with a new VFX program. Although the film wasn’t as popular as the first one, everyone praised Jones for his on-screen performance. His work helped him land a Teen Choice Award nomination.
Following a string of films, Halle Berry struck gold as Storm in 2000’s X-Men. Her performance in X-Men: The Last Stand earned her a People’s Choice Award for Favorite Female Action Star. Berry was last seen as Storm in 2014’s X-Men: Days of Future Past.
During the original X-Men trilogy, she stepped into the shoes of Catwoman for the film of the same name. Before Berry, Ashley Judd and Nicole Kidman were rumored to play the iconic villain in the 2004 film. To get in shape, the actress trained in Capoeira. Before Wonder Woman’s arrival, Catwoman was the highest-grossing female-led comic book film.
Evan Peters and Aaron Taylor-Johnson
Evan Peters and Aaron Taylor-Johnson both starred in the 2010 film Kick-Ass, which is based on the Image Comics series. In the film, Taylor-Johnson played the title character, while Peters played his friend, Todd Haynes. Kick-Ass became a surprise hit with $96.2 million earned at the box office.
Both actors went on to portray Quicksilver — for two different studios. In 2014, Peters played the character in X-Men: Days of Future Past. He continued playing Quicksilver in X-Men: Apocalypse and Dark Phoenix. Taylor-Johnson brought the character into the MCU with 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The next year, Avengers: Age of Ultron gave him a bit more screen time.
In 2017, Taika Waititi directed and starred in Thor: Ragnarok. In the film, he played Korg, who becomes Thor’s ally as they escape Asgard. Waititi will star in and direct 2021’s Thor: Love and Thunder, which begins shooting next year. Months before the release, he will star in The Suicide Squad in an undisclosed role.
Before becoming an MCU powerhouse, Waititi starred in 2011’s Green Lantern, which was produced by Greg Berlanti. In the film, he portrays Thomas Kalmaku, who is Hal Jordan’s best friend. Waititi got the part after casting directors noticed his performance in 2010’s Boy, which he directed and wrote.
In 2003, Jennifer Connelly played Bruce Banner’s love interest in Hulk. For Connelly, director Ang Lee’s vision led her to take the role. “I asked him why he wanted to make Hulk, and he said, ‘Well, it’s really a Greek tragedy. It’s actually a psychodrama,'” Connelly told SYFY Wire.
Connelly’s next performance in a comic book film was 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming. She lent her voice to Karen, which is the AI found in Spider-Man’s suit. Connelly landed the role because of her work in John Hughes’ Career Opportunities. Spider-Man: Homecoming featured a handful of tributes to the late director.
Tim Blake Nelson
In 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, Tim Blake Nelson plays Dr. Samuel Sterns. In the comic books, Sterns eventually becomes Leader, who becomes an intelligent supervillain after gamma radiation exposure. Although Sterns gets gamma radiation in his system, he doesn’t transform in the movie. The return of the character in Hulk 2 is possible.
In 2015, Nelson portrayed Dr. Harvey Allen in the Fantastic Four reboot. The character was originally supposed to be Harvey Elder, who becomes Mole Man in the comics. Before shooting, Fox decided to change the last name. This version of the character helps train others to use their powers.
Oscar-winning actor Nicolas Cage turned up the heat as Ghost Rider in 2007’s Ghost Rider and 2012’s Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. Both were box office successes, but he declined to do a third film. “You never say never, but right now, today, I would say that I’m done,” Cage told MTV.
Before Ghost Rider, Cage was cast as Superman for Kevin Smith’s film. The 1998 film was canceled, but Cage still got to lend his voice to Superman in 2018’s Teen Titans Go! To the Movies. That same year, he lent his voice to Spider-Man Noir in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
Rebecca Romijn turned heads with her portrayal of Mystique in the original X-Men films. For the perfect shot, the actress had to wear 110 individual silicone prosthetics at all times. This procedure took nine hours to finish every day. Her work earned her a Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress in 2001. Her last performance was in X-Men: First Class.
In 2018, she began lending her voice to reporter Lois Lane in DC’s animated films. Romijn appears in The Death of Superman, Reign of the Supermen and Batman: Hush. For her performances, she is joined by husband Jerry O’Connell, who voices Superman.
Josh Brolin became the most feared villain in the MCU as Thanos. At the 2019 Saturn Awards, Brolin won for Best Supporting Actor for his work in Avengers: Infinity War. The actor also made crowds happy as Cable in Deadpool 2. With Deadpool 3 coming in the future, Brolin is looking forward to continuing playing the mutant.
Before Thanos and Cable, Brolin played the title character in 2010’s Jonah Hex. At first glance, the actor wasn’t fond of the script, but he ultimately came around. On set, Brolin accidentally broke John Malkovich’s thumb. Fortunately, it was repaired in time for the next scene. (How is that even possible?)
Benedict Cumberbatch has the honor of playing two unique characters in the same movie. The actor gives a rousing performance as the title character in Doctor Strange. To properly move his fingers for spells, Cumberbatch trained with dancer JayFunk. In 2017, he was nominated for Best Actor in a Film at the Saturn Awards.
Aside from playing Doctor Strange, Cumberbatch portrays Dormammu. The actor provided motion capture and lent his voice for the role. Candyman actor Tony Todd was considered for the role of Dormammu and even recorded some voice lines, but the directors decided to use Cumberbatch’s voice instead.
Chris Evans first gained attention with his portrayal of Johnny Storm/Human Torch in 2005’s Fantastic Four. In 2011, he moved on to his biggest role to date as Captain America in Captain America: The First Avenger. His performance in the film earned him a Scream Award for Best Superhero. The actor portrayed the popular Marvel Comics character in 11 movies.
Although those two roles are most prominent in his career, Evans dove into other comic book franchises as well. He portrayed Captain Jake Jensen in The Losers, and he lent his voice to the character Casey Jones in the 2007 animated film TMNT.
In 2000, James Marsden gained worldwide fame portraying Cyclops in X-Men. His time on the original trilogy helped bring in $1.1 billion at the box office. In 2006, he jumped ship to DC Comics for Superman Returns. In the film, he plays Daily Planet reporter Richard White.
Appearing in the DC Comics film didn’t help his screen time on X-Men: The Last Stand. Both films were released weeks apart from each other. Because of his jump to Superman Returns, Cyclops was killed off early in the film. Marsden reprised the role briefly in 2014’s X-Men: Days of Future Past.
In 2004, Ben Foster portrayed Spacker Dave in The Punisher. In the comic books, Dave is a tenant in the same building The Punisher occupies for a short time. The two eventually became allies. Dave’s movie portrayal nearly mirrored his behavior in the books.
In 2006, Foster played Angel in X-Men: The Last Stand. He wasn’t the first choice for the role. Mike Vogel was chosen, but the actor exited due to scheduling. The Last Stand gave Angel a completely different origin. Although he’s a founder of the X-Men in the comics, he’s simply an experiment in the movie.