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The 10 most comic-book accurate superhero movie casting decisions ever

(Image credit: Marvel/Disney/Warner Bros/Fox)

Audiences who stayed to catch the post-credits scene of Spider-Man: Far From Home (opens in new tab) were treated to an amazing cameo by one of the franchise’s most famous characters. We won’t give spoil the moment just yet, but, suffice to say, the minute long scene raises a dozen questions and sets the stage for the next Spider-Man movie. And we seriously hope that this actor returns once again to the role.

Although superheroes and comic book characters don’t actually exist (in case you were wondering), the best ones are usually modelled after memorable qualities of real people. For example, Superman was partially inspired by co-creator Jerry Siegel, whose square jaw and curly dark hair became trademark elements of the character. To create the Joker in 1940, comic veterans Bill Finger, Bob Kane, and Jerry Robinson turned to The Man Who Laughs, a 1928 German Expressionist film adaptation of a novel by Victor Hugo, for inspiration. Specifically, they looked to Casablanca actor Conrad Veidt's character: a disfigured man with a permanent grin that becomes a carnival attraction.

When it comes to finding the right actor or actress to portray a superhero, some performers, through look or lifestyle, naturally lend themselves to certain characters. And, in honour of that Far From Home cameo, here’s a round-up of the most screen-accurate superhero movie casting decisions ever made.

But first, a disclaimer. As good as some comic character interpretations have been — Hugh Jackman’s nine-movie rally as Wolverine (although a muscular Danny DeVito is probably more in-line with his depiction in the comics); Michael Keaton as an unassuming, soft-spoken Batman; and Heath Ledger’s social experiment-obsessed Joker — we’re leaving many of these depictions off the list because, iconic as they each are, they largely deviate from their comic book counterparts. This list is dedicated to actors who have captured the spirit, style, or physicality of their comic book counterparts spot-on.

10. Ryan Reynolds as Wade Wilson (Deadpool)

(Image credit: Fox)

Lest we forget, Ryan Reynolds has played Wade Wilson three times. The first was in the forgettable X-Men Origins: Wolverine, where he debuted as the “merc with a mouth” – except he literally has no mouth and was instead able to shoot laser beams from his eyes. Huh?

Luckily, Deadpool’s second outing, in his own film in 2016, more than made up for the character’s first appearance. While the actor has always excelled at playing the comic wiseass (you may remember Reynolds also killing it as Hannibal King in Blade: Trinity), he truly found his stride as the snarky, chimichanga-obsessed mutant. Reynolds brings life to Deadpool’s usual depraved buoyancy and crude one-liners; things get even better after Wilson is paired with love interest Vanessa Carlysle (Morena Baccarin), who might even be darker than he is. Who doesn’t love a happy ending?

9. Ron Perlman as Hellboy (Hellboy)

(Image credit: Columbia)

After two decades of gruff supporting roles in films like The Island of Doctor Moreau, Alien: Resurrection, and Enemy at the Gates, it wasn’t until Ron Perlman stepped into the shoes (hooves?) of the sardonic, cigar-chomping half-demon from Hell that the actor found the badass role he was seemingly made for. 

It’s a tall order to ask any actor to slap on prosthetic horns, a giant rock hand, and to be drenched in red paint, but the then-54-year-old Perlman pulled it off and brought comic creator Mike Mignola’s Hellboy off the page in Guillermo del Toro’s dark adaptation. (“I hate those comic books,” Hellboy says in the film. “They never get the eyes right.”) Although Stranger Things actor David Harbour’s performance as the namesake demon was one of the (few) highlights in the lamentable Hellboy reboot earlier this year, there’s no dethroning Perlman as the definitive red demon.

8. Chloë Grace Moretz as Mindy Macready (Kick-Ass)

(Image credit: Fox)

How do you find the right actress to play a foul-mouthed, killer vigilante when the character is supposed to be just 11 years old? Enter child actress Chloë Grace Moretz. Altough just 12 years old at the time, Moretz told the New York Times she was interested in taking the role of “an action hero, woman empowerment, awesome, take-charge leading role” after seeing posters of Angelina Jolie in the 2008 movie Wanted. A month later, she was offered the role of Mindy Macready and her crime fighting alter-ego, Hit-Girl. (If you’re unfamiliar with the comics, the character is basically what would’ve happened if Léon: the Professional had actually let his young protégé join him on kills.)

To prepare for her role as the purple-haired badass, Moretz spent three months training with Jackie Chan’s stunt crew in order to perform most of her own stunts. She learned how to use guns and butterfly knives and swords, carrying much of the film’s Tarantino-caliber violence and profanity on her (tiny) shoulders. Ffellow Kick-Ass actor Christopher Mintz-Plasse said at the time: “Kick-Ass and Red Mist] don’t have any of the action in the movie. It’s all Hit-Girl.” 

Although Moretz’s casting ultimately attracted controversy from critics who questioned whether the young performer fully understood the role she was playing (as early as the first red-band trailer for Kick-Ass, the actress drops the c-word before slicing her way through a pack of drug dealers), her performance still made a career-launching impact. “Say what you will about her character,” Roger Ebert noted in his one-star review of the movie. “But Chloë Grace Moretz has presence and appeal.”

7. Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach (Watchmen)

(Image credit: Warner Bros)

Former child actor Jackie Earle Haley heard internet chatter lobbying for his casting as the vigilante Rorschach before returning to Hollywood in 2006’s All the King’s Men (with future Watchmen co-star Patrick Wilson). When word began circulating that a Watchmen adaptation was headed to the big screen, Haley improvised a costume and filmed his own audition tape. “Dude, I just swear, it was Halloweeny… but I did what I could on my little shoestring audition tape budget,” the actor told the Daily News in 2009. “All of it was shot in the living room and the kitchen of his house,” Snyder said in the same interview: “Very low-tech but awesomely acted. Clearly there was no other Rorschach.”

A decade since Watchmen hit theatres and fans are still finding ways to complain about Snyder’s adaptation of the “unfilmable” comic by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. But neither critics nor audiences could find fault with Haley, who even adopted his own fighting style (the actor has a black belt in kenpo) to march Rorschach’s boxing and street fighting background in the film. Forget all-powerful Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup) or the sadistic Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) – it’s Rorschach that scares the crap out of us. Throughout the film’s three-and-a-half-hour runtime, Haley’s performance never lets up and the actor makes it terrifying clear: he’s not locked up with us – we’re locked up with him.

5 + 6. Ian McKellen as Erik Lehnsherr and Patrick Stewart as Charles Xavier (X-Men)

“We are the same actor, really,” Ian McKellen once said while describing his longtime best-friendship with Patrick Stewart. “We’ve had the same career. So we’re peers. We’re equals.” McKellen’s not wrong: both men are classically trained actors that developed their skills with the Royal Royal Shakespeare Company and on the West End; both originally turned to acting as a form of escape (for Stewart, from an abusive father; for McKellen, as a closeted gay actor); and both have become synonymous as being the elder voices of reason, for starships and fellowships alike. Oh, and they’re also both mutants.

As Professor X and Magneto, Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen represent the two opposing ideals at the heart of the X-Men franchise: can humans and mutants peacefully coexist? The pacifist Professor X, often compared to Martin Luther King Jr. in his struggle for civil rights, says yes. (“Don’t give up on them, Eric.”) The militant Magneto, whose activism is more in line with Malcolm X, says no. (“Don’t get in my way. We are the future, Charles, not them.”) It’s weird to think that this struggle might have instead played out with Terence Stamp as Professor X and Christopher Lee as Magneto.

While James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender do a fine job reprising the characters in the First Class series, we’re willing to bet that when you think of Professor X and Magneto, it’s Stewart and McKellen that come to mind.

4. Mickey Rourke as Marv (Sin City)

(Image credit: Fox)

If there’s one word to describe Robert Rodriguez’s adaptation of Frank Miller’s Sin City, it’s uncompromising. Miller refused to cooperate with Hollywood’s attempts to film his comics – until Rodriguez demonstrated his commitment to the source material by showing him a scene he had filmed and treated with a unique colour processing that gave the footage look identical to the comics. When the Director’s Guild of America refused to grant Miller and Rodriguez a shared director credit, Rodriguez responded by resigning from the Guild.

“Then there was the unbelievable tiger force that is Mickey Rourke. A locomotive,” Miller said in a 2017 interview with Deadline. “The way he assumed that role and took the movie on his shoulders was just beautiful.” For Mickey Rourke, Sin City was a rebirth. After years of heavy drinking, heroin addiction, and facial punishment due to boxing, the actor in real life had largely become as weathered as Marv, Sin City’s heaviest—and scariest—hitter. The actor reportedly sparred an average of 35 rounds a week for close to a year with former world champion boxers James Toney and Roberto Duran. “I had my nose broken twice. I had five operations on my nose and one on a smashed cheekbone,” Rourke told the Daily Mail in 2009. In an interview with the Sabotage Times in 2015, the actor confessed that his “neurological scan was so bad that the doctor said ‘forget about three more fights[,] you can’t even have one more.’”

“I’ve got a condition. I get confused sometimes,” Marv says in Sin City. “What if I’ve finally turned into what they’ve always said I’d turn into: a maniac? A psycho killer?” Rourke got into character each day on Sin City’s set by listening to a Johnny Cash cover of Nine Inch Nails’ "Hurt"; Cash’s gravely vocals also inspired Rourke’s voice for Marv in the film. (“With Mickey, bad grammar works and that’s the way I had written that Sin City character,” Miller said. “He can say things like [‘]I shouldn’t oughta do this,[’] something out of an old ‘40s movie … and it would sound absolutely perfect.”)

To help entice the actor to return for Sin City: A Dame to Kill For a decade later, Rodriguez made sure to reduce the previously hours-long makeup process to just 45 minutes. “On the first [film] he kind of got abused,” Rodriguez said in interviews. “It was just him, there were no other actors. It wasn’t like we could give him a break. So it was a little rough.”

3. Christopher Reeve as Superman (Superman)

(Image credit: Warner Bros)

What do Robert Redford, Burt Reynolds, Sylvestor Stallone, Bruce Jenner, Neil Diamond, and Christopher Walken have in common? They were all considered for the title role in 1978’s Superman, the first big-budget movie adaptation of the comic character by creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Back then, superhero movies didn’t exist as a genre and the idea of casting big names like Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman in what had previously been pulpy, low-budget serial matinee films was considered crazy. For the leading role, over a dozen actors, including Paul Newman and Nick Nolte, passed on the project and the producers auditioned over 200 unknowns for the part.

“We found guys with fabulous physique who couldn’t act or wonderful actors who did not look remotely like Superman,” creative consultant Tom Makiewicz said in an interview. Producer Ilya Salkind became so desperate trying to find Superman that he even screen tested his wife’s dentist for the part. Casting director Lynn Stalmaster eventually suggested unknown actor Christopher Reeve but Salkind thought the actor looked too skinny. (“Six-four, but like a string bean.”) When Reeve won the part, he refused to wear a muscle suit and instead worked with weightlifter David Prowse (who physically portrayed Darth Vader in the original Star Wars trilogy) to gain 33 pounds of muscle in just ten weeks.

Superman was a big gamble that paid off: the film set the standard for all coming superhero movies and Reeve’s performance would redefine the character forever. Not with the hands-on-hips bravado from the comics but with humility, compassion, and moral responsibility; principles that guided Reeve throughout his own life, especially while lobbying on behalf of stem cell research in the years following his spinal cord injury. In the cynical ‘70s, after Vietnam and Watergate, Americans needed a hero that could honestly represent “truth, justice, and the American way.” That hero was Superman and his name was Christopher Reeve.

2. Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark (Iron Man)

(Image credit: Marvel/Disney)

Today, Robert Downey Jr. is one of the biggest movie stars in the world. But a decade ago, Iron Man director Jon Favreau had to fight to convince Marvel execs to cast the actor as “genius, billionaire, playboy philanthropist” Tony Stark. Multiple arrests for alcohol and substance abuse through the late ‘90s and early 2000s mostly destroyed Downey Jr.’s career, until friends and advocates like Joel Silver (who cast the actor in 2003’s Gothika—albeit with a contract clause that withheld half of Downey Jr.’s salary as insurance) helped get him acting again. Many of his roles during this time, in movies like A Scanner Darkly and Zodiac, found Downey Jr. playing drug users or burnouts. Not exactly the type of guy you necessarily want headlining a family-friendly superhero movie with a $140 million dollar budget.

But for Jon Favreau, who already knew about Tony Stark’s equally checkered past from the Iron Man comics, there wasn’t a better candidate for the role. “It was my job as a director to show that it was the best choice creatively,” Favreau said in a 2014 interview on the Texas radio station 100.3 Jack FM, “and now the Marvel Universe is the biggest franchise in film history.” 11 years since the first Iron Man, Downey Jr. has since appeared as Tony Stark in 11 different films across the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the actor and character have since fused together in pop culture’s collective consciousness. And in a case of life imitating art, Downey Jr. actually took the stage at last month’s Amazon re:MARS AI and robot conference in Las Vegas to announce the launch of his latest venture: The Footprint Coalition, a new initiative aimed at cleaning up Earth through the use of robotics and nanotechnology.

“I have this quiet sense of crisis,” Downey Jr. admitted during his presentation, about having contributed more to climate change as someone with wealth. “I’m a one-man carbon footprint nightmare colossus.” Luckily for all of us, he’s also Iron Man.

1. J. K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson (Spider-Man)

(Image credit: Sony)

When it comes to the all-time greatest comic casting decision, it doesn’t get better than J. K. Simmons as Daily Bugle publisher J. Jonah Jameson. From the robust flat-top haircut (a wig) to his sneering, mustachioed mouth, Simmons has the look down. Although little more than a supporting role originally, the actor ferociously read nearly ever Spider-Man comic that featured the aggravated newspaper man, donned a prosthetic set of square white teeth, and honed his pitch to nail the voice. “Basically, it’ll be loud,” Simmons told Ain’t It Cool News back in 2001. “He’s always screaming.”

For comic fans, the result is uncanny. The actor’s manic, booming voice was the one you imagined in your head while reading the comics (“Parker!”), and it’s almost as if J. K. Simmons came first and every Spider-Man artist has been trying to model the character of J. Jonah Jameson off his performance.

In addition to the spot-on look, Simmons steals the show in every scene he’s in. Perhaps for this reason, director Sam Raimi lets Jameson “name” both villains in the first two Spider-Man films: the Green Goblin (“I want a quarter every time someone says it.”) and Doctor Octopus (“Guy named Otto Octavius winds up with eight limbs … What are the odds?”). Jameson also gets some of the best moments throughout the franchise, like telling his wife “not to open the caviar” after his son’s wedding falls apart, or actually trying on Spider-Man’s costume while pretending to sling web. Then there's when he haggled with a little girl over the price of her camera (and film). He isn’t even a bad publisher; Jameson is clearly skilled at cutting costs for the paper any way possible and, when threatened by the Green Goblin about Spider-Man photos, he willingly lies to protect his sources and refuses to name the photographer who took the images: Peter Parker.

In addition to portraying him throughout Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy, J. K. Simmons also lent his voice to the character throughout Marvel’s assorted animated television series, including Lego Marvel Super Heroes: Maximum Overload and Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H.. Talk about commitment; the guy must really want Spider-Man.