The List: Top 10 Greatest Character Portrayals In Comic Book Movies

Well, you lot liked this one didn't you. Beating last weeks record number of votes and getting more user suggestions than any previous poll, you guys certainly had a lot to say about who you thought was the best at playing superhero on the big screen. And as it would turn out, most of what you had to say was about one particular person, but we'll get to that later.

Honourable Mentions: Hugh Jackman as Wolverine (X-Men franchise), Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach (Watchmen), Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange/ Stephan Strange and Tom Holland as Spider-Man/ Peter Parker (MCU), Gary Oldman as Jim Gordon and Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth (The Dark Knight Trilogy)

10. Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury (MCU)

You know, I'm starting to think there's something in this whole Infinity Formula thing that Nick Fury uses in the comics in order to stay forever youthful, because Mr L. Jackson here is in his 60's and you sure as hell couldn't tell it. Portraying what is basically the Ultimates Universe version of the character (which in turn was based on SLJ himself, natch), Jackson is never the main focus of any of the films he's in, but he's always there, providing that powerful authoritative figure that is needed to keep everyone in line, which is exactly how Nick Fury should be.

9. Tom Hiddleston as Loki (MCU)

So, how do you make a character like Loki believable and relatable but still someone you want to see get beat down. Well what you do is you imbue the character with possibly illegal levels of charm, add a dash of quick wit, a heavy dose of manipulativeness, a health amount of younger sibling syndrome and package it all up in the perfectly smug and smarmy form of Tom Hiddleston and watch the fangirls weep.

8. Ron Perlman as Hellboy (Hellboy Franchise)

So what makes this performance so good? Well, when you watch the film, you can tell that Ron Perlman is having fun playing the character. He's invested in what he's selling and that makes it so much easier to buy into it. And when the character in question is one that by rights shouldn't ever work outside the pages of the comics he comes from, that's quite something. Because, let's be honest, a huge red demon who smokes cigars, has what can only be described as "a lot" of cats and goes around fighting demons from another dimension by punching them with a giant stone right hand, it just sounds too ridiculous to work doesn't it. But Perlman made it work. Probably helps that he had Guillermo Del Toro to fall back on as well.

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

It's kinda telling that someone did a decent job at portraying a character when the series has been rebooted twice since they last played the character and neither time has the role been recast. J.K. Simmons practically IS J. Jonah Jameson. The look was there (I challenge anyone to find a live-action version of a character that looks as close to their comics counterpart as this), the mannerisms were there, the attitude was the right mix of asshole and likeable (about 73%-27%). It was like they'd found the Impossible Man and used his powers to bring the comics Jameson into the real world.

6. Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool/ Wade Wilson (X-men Franchise)

Ok, if we ignore the rather stupid decision to sew up his mouth at the end of Origins: Wolverine, this one makes all of too much sense. Ryan Reynolds excels at playing irreverent characters who spend just as much time joking as they do breathing and only stop talking... um, never. Deadpool is a character whose favourite activities are, in order, Chimichangas, talking, breaking the fourth wall whilst killing people, talking, cracking jokes whilst killing people, Chimichangas, talking, killing people whilst cracking jokes or breaking the fourth wall, talking about Chimichangas, eating Chimichangas whilst talking or all of the above all at the same time with extra Chimichangas and a whole lot of talking. Perfect match.

5. Patrick Stewart as Professor X/ Charles Xavier (X-Men Franchise)

So who do you go to when you need a person to play Professor Charles Xavier, one of the most respected men in all of comics, a man of intelligence and power, a man who teaches others restraint, responsibility and compassion in the face of great fear and hatred, one of the best leader figures in fiction. Well, you ask Jean Luc Picard not to get out of that command chair and strap wheels on it and you're good to go. It also saves you having to ask the actor to shave his head. I mean, Patrick Stewart is a world class Shakespearian actor who excels when give roles of authority, of course he's going to be a fantastic.. no wrong word... uncanny Charles Xavier.

4. Christopher Reeve as Superman/ Clark Kent (Superman Franchise)

I said when we covered J.K. Simmons that you can tell when someone did a good job playing a role when they can't recast that role for any reboots. You can also tell when someone has done a good job in a role when the casting criteria for each subsequent reboot is "how much does he look like that guy". That's the case with Christopher Reeve. He casts a very large shadow over anyone Warner Bros. casts to play Superman, simply because he was just so damn iconic in the role. He wasn't the first and he certainly hasn't been the last, but he was the only one to truly get the character. He was the only one to understand the dichotomy between Superman and Clark Kent and actually be able to play both characters whilst simultaneously making it believable that these were both two different people and, at the same time, the same person. And whilst modern interpretations of the character get further and further away from the soul of DC's icon, Christopher Reeve will always be the man who made you believe that a man could fly.

3. Chris Evans as Captain America/ Steve Rogers (MCU)

Much like Superman, Captain America is a character that should be hard to pull of convincingly and to make relevant in this day and age. As with the man of steel, Cap is the product of a different time, an idealist in a non-ideal world. So how do you act that. Well, as we can see in Chris Evans portrayal of the character, you lean heavily on what has carried the character through so many years of comic book publication, the conviction. Evans carries us through an underdog story of a man who stands up to the evil of the world even when it is too much for him through to a man who will stand up for what he feels is right even if it hurts his friends and every step of the way you never once doubt that he doesn't have the conviction to make it through. Even though he is overshadowed by a certain other Avenger, it is he who provides the leadership and the soul of the team. Which isn't bad considering that by rights everyone should view Cap in the same way everyone views Superman aka he's boring (he's not, neither is Superman).

2. Heath Ledger as The Joker (The Dark Knight)

The only time a comic book film has ever won an Academy Award for an Acting category, Heath Ledgers is often considered to be one of the most iconic variations on Batman's arch-nemesis and one of the greatest screen villains of all time. What makes his performance so impressive is the lengths Ledger went to in order to make the character. Method acting a character like the Joker is never a good idea, but Ledger did it anyway. Basing his interpretation of the character heavily on The Killing Joke and Arkham Asylum: A Serious House On A Serious Earth, Ledger secluded himself in a hotel room for a month, coming up with the characters posture, way of speaking, personality, as well as filming his own portions of the film (the snuff-film footage of the Batman impersonator and the reporter) and keeping an incredibly creepy journal of The Joker's thoughts and feelings. On set he improvised many small parts of his scenes, including his clapping at Jim Gordon's promotion and, most famously, the exploding hospital scene. Whilst there may be a case to say that Ledger's Joker is held in such high regard due to the fact that the actor died whilst the film was in post-production, it is obvious that the performance would still be considered in the Top 5 at least even if the actor hadn't tragically lost his life. But that still doesn't get this portrayal to the top of our list, in fact it didn't even come close. The vote was a landslide and everyone got buried.

1. Tony Downey Stark Jr. (MCU)

"He was born to play Iron Man.... I wanted someone intelligent, a little bit off, you know, and glamorous and rich and Downey plays that so perfectly.... He's wonderful."- Stan Lee on Robert Downey Jr.

'Nuff said.

So, that's the list folks. Do you agree or disagree (judging by the voting I'm going to guess at mostly the former)? What is your favourite portrayal of a comic book character in film and why is it Robert Downey Jr.? Let us know in the comments below.

And with that

JR out.


About JR19759

Email: Twitter: @jr19759 Deviantart: JR19759 Deviantart HM Group: Heromachine-Art

8 Responses to The List: Top 10 Greatest Character Portrayals In Comic Book Movies

  1. Avatar Gene says:

    A good list, that I for the most part agree with. But I have to give props to Marvel Studios in general for their casting choices. Overall, not always, but overall, their casting has been spot on. They’ve picked actors that come in and own the role. On and off screen. In addition to the actors named here, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Paul Rudd, Benedict Cumberbatch, etc (More than I can think of to list). They’ve just done a really good job casting their heroes, villains and support characters.

  2. Avatar Nick Hentschel says:

    All I can say, is that this is a trendy list, emphasizing very recent portrayals. Which is about what I expected to see, sadly.

    I’m surprised that Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine missed the list, since he was able to bring alive a character who should have been un-playable, and done it so well, that he’s now about to play him for what must be the eighth time!

    I would only ask that when you get around to doing a list for TV, you expand ti to include not only live-action and animation, but ALL broadcast media: we don’t want to forget some of the pioneers of RADIO, do we?

  3. Avatar Jake says:

    Nick Hentschel:
    All I can say, is that this is a trendy list, emphasizing very recent portrayals.Which is about what I expected to see, sadly.

    I’m surprised that Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine missed the list, since he was able to bring alive a character who should have been un-playable, and done it so well, that he’s now about to play him for what must be the eighth time!

    I would only ask that when you get around to doing a list for TV, you expand ti to include not only live-action and animation, but ALL broadcast media: we don’t want to forget some of the pioneers of RADIO, do we?

    You’ve got to draw the line somewhere. Should the various Lego superhero movies be included? How about the five hundred video games? Those can all make for fun lists worthy of discussion, but they shouldn’t all be lumped into the same group.

    As for the list, I disagree with a couple of the placements, but for the most part this is really solid.

  4. Avatar Arioch says:

    I find it interesting that this list, even in the honorable mentions, doesn’t include a single woman.

    Otherwise, I gotta say: I don’t like comics cap / I love MCU Cap. I think this speaks volumes about Chris Evans portrayal

  5. JR19759 JR19759 says:

    @Arioch- Well, as far as I remember, there’s only really been a few female performances that could make the vote, let alone the list. Scarlet Johanssen has been great in the MCU, but AoU didn’t do her many favours (though, her being beaten by J.K. Simmons onto the list is a bit…). Gal Gadot wasn’t in BvS for long enough and her solo movie hasn’t been released yet. Michelle Pfieffer was great as Catwoman but her role came in a movie that some people love and some people hate, whilst Anne Hathaway was good but a bit bland in the same role. Otherwise, who have you got? Famke Janssen? Kirsten Dunst? I wouldn’t have even allowed Halle Berry to get on the poll, so she’s out.
    Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for sexual equality, but there hasn’t really been a role that has really given any actress a proper spotlight yet. We all know ScarJo is great as Widow, but has she ever been allowed to properly show it? Nope, she’s a background character. Michelle Pfieffer put in a great performance, but she was playing second fiddle to Danny DeVito most of the movie. Storm should have been a role that really went somewhere, but Halle Berry phoned it in, and the writing screwed Janssen over by making Jean Grey pretty boring (which should be a crime worthy of capital punishment really, same as making Cyclops a bit part player) and botching the Dark Phoenix Saga. I think that if I did this list again next year we may get Gadot on here, but that all hinges on Warner Bros actually being able to movie properly, so I wouldn’t hold your breath. Other than that? Well, better be ready to wait until 2018-19 for Brie Larson’s turn as Captain Marvel.
    I just don’t think Hollywood can write female roles as well as men. The girl in the story is only there to be the love interest for one (or more than one) of the male characters. Either that or she’s a mother figure (Aunt May) or a bossy b**** (Amanda Waller). And until that properly changes, you aren’t likely to see any actresses on a list like this because the roles the male actors play are just more interesting. Even the greatest chef in the world can’t do much when he’s (or she in this case) presented with a single carrot as the only ingredient.

  6. Drinkfluid Drinkfluid says:

    JK Simmons flippity yeah*!

    *He was in Portal 2, which I like.

  7. Avatar Arioch says:


    Yup, I think we agree :-/

  8. Avatar Nick Hentschel says:

    Jake: You’ve got to draw the line somewhere.Should the various Lego superhero movies be included?How about the five hundred video games?Those can all make for fun lists worthy of discussion, but they shouldn’t all be lumped into the same group.

    Alternatively, a list could be made for voice-over work in general, which might include cartoons, radio, and vidgames. Or you could lump the cartoons back in with the TV stuff. But I’d like to see the original broadcast media get a little recognition, one way or the other: the Shadow, the Green Hornet, the original Lone Ranger, there’s so much to remember . . .