You can’t even turn around these days without accidentally watching a comic book movie. Or nine of them. Seriously, they have exploded in popularity so much that even characters who hardly a big deal at your local shop are raking in billions at the box office. Guardians of the Galaxy? Who can honestly say they had any idea who Star-Lord and Drax were before Marvel made a blockbuster movie about them?
All the biggest Hollywood stars want in on the action. Some of the best performers in the business have attached themselves to various comic book roles over the past couple of decades, with varying degrees of success. Some very talented actors and actresses, even Academy Award nominees and winners, have been completely miscast, misused, or underutilized in various comic book movies. Some times it’s the result of being cast in a minuscule role, that doesn’t allow their stardom to truly shine through. Other times it’s simply a terrible script or awful directing that leads to otherwise excellent performers being utterly wasted.
14. Taylor Kitsch – X-Men Origins: Wolverine
For many X-Men fans, it was basically a crime that Remy LeBeau aka Gambit didn’t make an appearance in the first three X-Men movies. The suave Cajun gambler finally made his film debut in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, with Taylor Kitsch taking the role. And he was actually pretty good. Kitsch is best known for his roles in Friday Night Lights and True Detective, but he did a perfectly fine job as a mutant.
Unfortunately, he’s barely even in this movie. He only shows up near the end, helps Wolverine find the secret William Stryker’s secret Weapons X facility on Three Mile Island and then… basically does nothing else of real consequence. And then never showed up in another X-Men film again. What a shame.
13. Michael Fassbender – Jonah Hex
Michael Fassbender is actually very good in some comic book movies, as his role as the younger Magneto in the X-Men franchise is one of the best things about it. When he’s not playing a metal controlling supervillain, he’s won acclaim for his acting in HBO’s Band of Brothers, Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds, and even garnered an Oscar nomination for playing slave-owner Edwin Epps in 12 Years a Slave.
Unfortunately, he doesn’t always choose the best roles (and no, we’re not talking about that awful Assassin’s Creed movie from 2o13). In 2010, Fassbender starred alongside Josh Brolin and John Malkovich in Jonah Hex, a film based on the comic book cowboy/bounty hunter with the same name. While the movie definitely had potential (Will Arnett, Megan Fox, and Michael Shannon were also part of the cast), the final product was a huge flop. It only made $10.9 million at the box office (on a budget of close to $50 million), and was savaged by critics.
Fassbender basically played the bad guy’s sidekick, a psychopathic Irishman modeled after a combination of the Joker and the twisted Alex from A Clockwork Orange. He’s a great actor, but not even Fassbender could save this train wreck of a movie.
12. Hugo Weaving – Captain America: The First Avenger
Hugo Weaving starred in two of the biggest trilogies ever, in terms of box office dollars. He was Agent Smith in all Matrix movies and played Elrond in the epic Lord of the Rings trilogy (and even reprised the role in 2012 and 2014 in The Hobbit films). He was also amazing in V for Vendetta as the mysterious revolutionary V, despite his face being covered for the duration of the film.
Weaving stepped into the role of the Red Skull in Captain America: The First Avenger. We’re not saying he did a bad job — he was actually great. The real disappointment comes in the way his character has never been brought back since. In the comics, the Red Skull is Captain America’s ultimate arch enemy. The Joker to his Batman, to borrow from DC for a moment. But when Weaving’s character gets blown to bit by the unstable power of the Tesseract at the end of the movie, that’s it. Even though Captain America has appeared in six different movies since, including a sequel, The Avengers series, plus Ant-Man and Spider-Man: Homecoming, his biggest and most historic rival has been nowhere to be seen. That’s a bummer.
11. Edward Norton – The Incredible Hulk
Edward Norton has wowed us numerous times, starting with his 1996 film debut as stuttering altar boy accused of murder in Primal Fear. Iconic roles in American History X and Fight Club soon followed, and his appearance alongside Matt Damon in the dramatic poker flick Rounders is a personal favorite around here. He picked up his second Best Supporting Actor nomination for 2015’s Birdman, although he’s yet to win the famous golden statue so far in his career.
In 2008, Marvel was introducing the world to what they called their “Cinematic Universe” — a series of movies that were all connected, containing dozens of classic Marvel characters. The Incredible Hulk was the second installment, and they ditched Eric Bana (who had previously played the big green guy in 2003’s Hulk) in favor of Edward Norton as the troubled doctor, Bruce Banner. The movie made a profit, but it’s generally considered one of the weakest efforts in the MCU. Audiences struggled to accept Norton as The Incredible Hulk, and Marvel would replace him with Mark Ruffalo for the rest of the MCU movies.
10. The Entire Cast of the Rebooted Fantastic Four
Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, and Jamie Bell aren’t legendary Oscar winners (yet), but they are all damn fine actors. Teller was brilliant in Whiplash alongside J.K. Simmons. Jordan broke out on HBO’s The Wire as a teenage drug dealer and brought the Rocky franchise back to respectability in Creed. Mara shone in the first season of Netflix’s House of Cards. Bell had an excellent supporting role in the under-appreciated Snowpiercer.
However, when the four of them banded together to reboot the Fantastic Four film franchise in 2015, it was a debacle of epic proportions. The movie was hated by critics, with one harsh review calling it “worse than worthless.” It was also a financial disaster and probably killed any chance of an actually good Fantastic Four movie ever being made. Maybe Fox should just sell the character rights back to Marvel/Disney since they can’t seem to get it right. Fantastic Four was nominated for multiple Razzie Awards and was on almost every “Worst Movies of the Year” list in 2015. Luckily, the four starring actors are talented enough to bounce back from this waste.
9. Djimon Hounsou – Guardians of the Galaxy
Djimon Hounsou was already well-respected actor when his fame shot through the roof by playing Juba in Gladiator, a fellow slave who becomes the close friend of Maximus during their battles together in the Colosseum. After that, he starred in Blood Diamond and In America, earning a Best Supporting Actor nomination for both roles.
Hounsou also landed a role in Guardians of the Galaxy as Korath the Pursuer, a feared intergalactic hunter. Unfortunately, it was basically a bit part and his character ends up dead when Drax the Destroyer rips out the robotic parts of his head. Ouch. It’s too bad, too, since he talked publicly about taking the role to help diversify superhero movies, especially in the eyes of his young son.
8. Michael Shannon – The Man of Steel
The Man of Steel was a good attempt at rebooting the Superman franchise, and stands as the first film in the DC Extended Universe. Henry Cavill makes a pretty convincing Superman, Amy Adams is a serviceable Lois Lane, but Michael Shannon is wasted as General Zod.
Shannon is probably actually the best part of this movie, but he is capable of so much more. His roles in Revolutionary Road and Nocturnal Animals earned him two Best Supporting Actor nominations, and his part in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire as lawman-turned-gangster Nelson Van Alden was a brilliant mix of subtle comedy and explosive violence. His turn as General Zod, a genocidal maniac from Superman’s home planet, was basically ended when Superman simply snapped his neck. The sequel Batman V. Superman would have benefited greatly from an actor of Shannon’s ability.
7. Peter Dinklage – X-Men: Days of Future Past
Peter Dinklage is probably better known to most people as Tyrion Lannister, the clever and drunken dwarf from Game of Thrones. Since taking on that role in 2011, he has received an Emmy nomination for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series for six straight years — winning it twice. He also has a Golden Globe award from 2012 and makes over a million dollars per episode. That’s a pretty solid resume.
In 2014, Dinklage appeared in X-Men: Days of Future Past as Bolivar Trask, a military scientist who believes that mutants are a plague on society and need to be destroyed. He uses traces of Mystique’s transformable DNA to develop the Sentinals, robots designed to attack a mutant’s very weakness in order to exterminate them. Unfortunately, Trask’s role takes a backseat to the ongoing feud between Professor X and Magneto, as they fight over the best way to co-exist with regular humans (or rule over them, as Magneto would prefer). An actor of Dinklage’s considerable talents deserved better in this movie.
6. Tommy Lee Jones – Batman Forever
Tommy Lee Jones is one helluva fine actor, and you probably don’t even need to reference his four Oscar nominations for people to understand why. He’s probably best known for playing a lawman of some type, whether it’s a U.S. Marshall in The Fugitive or Agent K in Men in Black. In 1995, Jones decided to was time to switch sides and play a character with a serious bad streak. He signed to play villain Two-Face aka Harvey Dent in Batman Forever.
This Joel Schumacher directed film had such potential, with Val Kilmer, Jim Carrey, Nicole Kidman, and Chris O’Donnell also starring. But for some reasons, the entire movie was turned into this weird neon version of Gotham City where Jones and Carrey (playing The Riddler) tried to outdo the other in terms of over-acting. The movie still made a bunch of money though, even if critics hated it and history has condemned it as one of the worst Batman movies ever made.
5. Idris Elba – MCU and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
Idris Elba has the privilege of being part of one of the greatest series in television history, playing drug dealer Stringer Bell in HBO’s The Wire. He’s also appeared in American Gangster and Netflix’s Beasts of No Nation, the latter of which earned him Golden Globe nominations for Best Supporting Actor. He doesn’t take himself too seriously though, as he’s also signed on to do voices in Zootopia, The Jungle Book, and Finding Dory.
Unfortunately, he’s also picked a few stinkers. For some strange reason, he accepted a part in 2011’s Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. This was a bad sequel to an already bad original movie, where Elba plays Moreau, a member of a secret society that needs the help of Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage). It’s best to just pretend this film never existed.
Elba took another crack at comic book movies, appearing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (mostly in the Thor movies) as Heimdall, the all-seeing guard of the Bifrost bridge. He does a perfectly fine job in the role, but we’re still going to complain because it’s such a small part. He barely gets any screen time at all! Maybe he’ll finally get a chance to do something big in the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok sequel.
4. Ryan Reynolds – Green Lantern
Oh boy, this sure was a disaster of a movie. In an attempt to match what Marvel had already been doing with their multiple character movies, DC decided they needed to do more than just spit out Batman and Superman films every now and again. They picked Hal Jordan aka the Green Lantern as the next major DC character to get a feature film. They even picked a pretty good actor in Ryan Reynolds to play the famous Justice League member.
Reynolds might not have Oscar nominations like some of the other actors on this list, but he’s good looking, funny, and has a trademark delivery that endears him to the target audience. Unfortunately, Reynolds had unwittingly signed on to a doomed project. It suffered through multiple re-writes and production issues and was panned by critics after its release as “noisy, overproduced, and thinly written.” It barely made back it’s $200 million budget, and the planned trilogy was canceled. At least Reynolds bounced back in a big way as Deadpool, even using that smash 2016 hit film to throw a subtle jab at this former role.
3. Jamie Foxx – The Amazing Spider-Man 2
The Spider-Man movies have really been a roller coaster of quality. Most people like the first two Toby Maguire versions but hate the third one. Then came the Andrew Garfield Amazing Spider-Man pair of films, which nobody seemed really thrilled about before Marvel welcomed the wall-crawler back into their MCU. In The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Sony landed a big name to play bad guy Electro when they announced Jamie Foxx has taken the role.
Foxx is probably most famous for winning the Best Actor award for his portrayal of late singer Ray Charles in Ray. He’s able to seamlessly switch between comedy and drama, as the In Living Color alum can go from serious roles in Collateral and Django Unchained to displaying his comedic chops in A Million Ways to Die in the West or Horrible Bosses. Unfortunately, his performance as Electro couldn’t save this movie from terrible writing and cheesy dialogue. The movie was so disappointing that Sony canceled the third movie in the trilogy and let Marvel do the Spider-Man stuff again.
2. Ben Kingsley – Iron Man 3
Sir Ben Kingsley has been acting his entire life. He made a name for himself performing Shakespeare in England in the 60s, and then on Broadway in the 70s, as he transitioned into films. He won the Oscar for Best Actor after playing Gandhi in 1982. He appeared in Schindler’s List, one of the best movies ever made. He has won two Golden Globe awards and a SAG award. He was actually knighted at Buckingham Palace for his contributions to the British film industry. He even starred in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Errrr, nevermind about that last one.
When news broke that Kingsley would be filling the shoes of villain The Mandarin in Iron Man 3, Marvel fans got very excited. Until they watched the movie and realized that Kingsley’s “The Mandarin” was actually just a character named Trevor Slattery, a failed British actor addicted to drugs. So was the real Mandarin? A different character entirely, pretty much ruining Kingsley’s appearance in a stupid piece of misdirection and preventing him from ever actually playing the role in a Marvel movie down the road.
1. Anthony Hopkins – The Thor Franchise
Anthony Hopkins is one of the most respected actors in the entire business. He has a Best Actor golden statue on his mantle for his iconic role as Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs and has won multiple BAFTA and Emmy awards. He was even knighted by Queen Elizabeth for his contributions to the arts. His most recent appearance in the first season of HBO’s Westworld was as dramatic and compelling as anything else he’s won praise for.
So why, oh why, did Hopkins agree to be Odin in the Thor movies? It’s not that he did a bad job. Hopkins is literally great in any role he chooses to do. But does he really need to be in a comic book movie? Not only that, but the Hopkins’ version of Thor and Loki’s father isn’t very exciting. He mostly stands around and delivers somber speeches. In the comics, Odin is a mighty warrior with immense power. In the Thor movies, he’s weak and barely able to stand up half the time. What a missed opportunity!