Heath Ledger posthumously won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role as The Joker in The Dark Knight. However, did Heath Ledger give the best performance of all time in a comic book movie? Looking back at the various comic book movies over the years, we’ve developed our ranking of the best comic book movie actors ever.
Just to be clear however, before someone points out that we forgot about actors in The Road to Perdition or A History of Violence, we limited our selection to superhero based comic book movies. Also, we feel we should note a couple of actors that just barely missed making our top 10. In Hellboy, Ron Perlman took a character that previously seemed unimaginable in a movie and made him real. If there is anyone that we feel really guilty about leaving off the top 10 list, then it is him. We just couldn’t think of who else to bump off.
Also, while Val Kilmer was boring, and George Clooney nearly killed the Batman franchise, it was an actor best known for his comedic roles that shined during the first series of Batman films. Who would have thought that Mr. Mom would have made a better Batman than Kilmer or Clooney? Michael Keaton definitely deserves credit as being the best movie Batman until Christian Bale came along.
With apologies to both Ron Perlman and Michael Keaton, here is our list of the top 10 comic book movie actors of all time.
10. Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor – If you compare Gene Hackman’s portrayal of Lex Luthor with some of the more modern portrayals of super-villains in comic book movies, then a case can be made that he was overly campy and comedic in the role. However, back in the seventies, the general public still didn’t know comic books should be taken seriously. Gene Hackman was able to make Luthor just menacing enough for comic book fans and just comedic enough for the general public that it helped make the original Superman movie a huge success.
9. Samuel Jackson as Nick Fury – Putting Samuel Jackson on the list of greatest comic book movie actors for his role as Nick Fury in Iron Man might be a controversial move. After all, Nick Fury only appeared in Iron Man for a couple seconds after the end credits rolled. It’s a testament to just how great Samuel Jackson is as Nick Fury that in a couple seconds, he could join the ranks of the best. Plus, it looks like the people at Marvel Studios would likely agree with this choice as they have signed Samuel Jackson to a nine picture deal.
8. Jack Nicholson as The Joker – Back in the eighties, there was a lot of buzz that Jack Nicholson deserved an Academy Award for his portrayal of The Joker in the first Batman movie. He did deserve at least a nomination, but he didn’t get one. He did however receive a Best Actor nomination for a Golden Globe. While his Joker wasn’t always terrifying, Nicholson was definitely entertaining in the role.
7. Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man – One of the things that makes Spider-Man great is that he’s Peter Parker, a normal guy with normal guy problems. Tobey Maguire is the perfect Peter Parker, which translates into the perfect Spider-Man. Tobey Maguire is just enough of a nerd to be Peter Parker, and he is also just tough enough to be Spider-Man. His universal appeal is also able to satisfy both comic book and non-comic book fans in the Spider-Man movies.
6. Patrick Stewart as Professor X – Rarely is there an actor who both acts and perfectly looks the part of a popular comic book character. In fact, if someone was picking up an X-Men comic book for the first time and didn’t know any better, they might think Marvel Comics had based the Professor X character on Patrick Stewart. Everyone knew that Patrick Stewart was the perfect Professor X, and he did not disappoint.
5. Hugh Jackman as Wolverine – Hugh Jackman is a guy who can sing and dance his way through the Academy Awards and still put on some adamantium claws and make us believe he’s the toughest mutant on the planet. Jackman took the role of Wolverine in the X-Men movies and made it a viable role for a franchise of its own. While we’ve yet to see if the X-Men Origins: Wolverine movie will fly or flop, there is no denying that Hugh Jackman so far has been the perfect Wolverine.
4. Christian Bale as Batman – Michael Keaton was good as Batman, but Christian Bale has been great. So what if Bale has a hot temper and family troubles, he makes for a great, brooding Batman and a believable, millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne. Bale has solidified the role of Batman as a character to be taken seriously, and he should have the role for as long as he wants it.
3. Robert Downey, Jr. as Iron Man – One of the rare comic book movies where a great movie trailer translated into an even greater movie, Robert Downey, Jr. made Iron Man a huge hit. Who else could take egotistical, billionaire Tony Stark and make him a character that the audience could sympathize with and relate to? Downey, Jr. got a Best Supporting Actor nod from The Academy for his role in Tropic Thunder, but he should have gotten a Best Actor nod for his role in Iron Man.
2. Christopher Reeve as Superman – Would comic book movies be what they are today without Christopher Reeve? Just think, if that first Superman movie had flopped at the box office, would any movie studio have ever taken a chance again on featuring a comic book character in a movie. When Christopher Reeve made the world believe that a man could fly, he paved the way for all the comic book movie actors that came after him.
1. Heath Ledger as The Joker – While Christopher Reeve might have made us believe a man can fly, Heath Ledger made us take a man in clown make-up seriously. His haunting portrayal of The Joker transcended anything that had ever been done before in not only a comic book movie but in any movie. It was a James Dean-like performance, and unfortunately like James Dean, Heath Ledger died young, leaving the world only to wonder what he could have accomplished in the future as an actor.