Ranking The Ten Best Comic Book Character Portrayals On Film

Cue the nerd wars.

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This post was first published in 2013.

Thor: The Dark World hit cinemas the other week, disappointing fans of the comics and of Kenneth Branagh’s fun original film (as Paul Dalla Rosa accurately surmised here). But while the film’s received some mixed feedback, reviews have highlighted one point of agreement: Tom Hiddleston’s menacing grin seems to have won over pretty much everyone. Or, as Vulture‘s recent review round-up put it: “Man, the critics sure do love Loki in Thor: The Dark World“.


This, alongside this week’s rumours that Adam Driver from HBO’s Girls is a frontrunner to play Nightwing in the upcoming Batman vs Superman film (aka ‘Batfleck’), got me thinking about some of the better comic book character portrayals on screen to date. Start the countdown…

10. Michael Cera as Scott Pilgrim in Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (2010)

The bumbling but surprisingly self-confident Scott Pilgrim was always going to be a tough character to translate to film, especially considering all the video game and anime references that are spread throughout Bryan Lee O’Malley’s series. But Cera brought his own goofy charm to the role, and even managed to impress with a number of physically demanding fight scenes.

9. Ron Perlman as Hellboy in Hellboy (2004) and Hellboy 2 (2008)

While much credit must be given to a fantastic make-up and costume team, Ron Perlman nailed this character with nothing more than voice and personality. Unlike some other bulking mass like, say, Vin Diesel or The Rock, Perlman’s unique swagger, sarcastic tone and fondness for cigars brought Hellboy to life.

Further proof why Perlman belongs on this list? This heartwarming story that surfaced last year about a six-year old boy with leukemia who told the Make-A-Wish Foundation he wanted to meet Hellboy. Perlman visited the young fan in full make-up and costume and spent the day with the little dude. What a legend.

8. Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/Hulk in The Avengers (2012)

Eric Bana‘s version was too artsy-fartsy and Ed Norton couldn’t revive the character either, but Ruffalo came out of nowhere to become one of the more popular heroes in Marvel’s  The Avengers, taking the role in an entirely new direction as a humble genius who accepted and controlled who and what he was. His on-screen chemistry with Robert Downey, Jr. and unpredictable outbursts with both Loki and Thor also pleased the film’s audiences.

7. Mickey Rourke as Marv in Sin City (2005)

Before receiving numerous awards for The Wrestler (2008), it was Rourke’s brutal portrayal of ex-con Marv that put the veteran actor back in the spotlight. Rourke’s stone-like face was perfect for the disfigured and monstrous-looking thug, and writer/director Frank Miller even noted on the film’s DVD commentary that after interviewing Rourke for the role, he only had one note: “He IS Marv!”

6. Michelle Pfeiffer as Selina Kyle/Catwoman in Batman Returns (1992)

Anne Hathaway’s more recent version in The Dark Knight Rises (2012) was a little sweet, but Pfeiffer’s portrayal was menacing, sexy, mysterious and incredibly creepy all at once. Even though the dork-to-vixen transformation has been done a million times on film, Pfeiffer completely altered the way she walked and talked to what can only be described as ‘cat-like’.

5. Jack Nicholson as Jack Napier/The Joker in Batman (1989)

Nicholson’s Joker is far-less terrifying than Heath Ledger’s in The Dark Knight, but that isn’t necessarily bad. Tim Burton’s more comic-like adaptation of Batman provided the perfect setting for Nicholson to unleash his signature craziness; his maniacal Joker was less about random chaos and more about revenge, power and infatuation (still a very dangerous cocktail).

4. Christopher Reeve as Superman/Clark Kent in Superman 1-4 (1978-1987)

Reeve probably would’ve been higher on the list if I didn’t enjoy Henry Cavill‘s recent performance in Man Of Steel so much. But even though Cavill gave Superman the charm and empathy needed to help audiences connect with the character, Christopher Reeve was born to play Superman, which is why he reprised the iconic role so many times. His bumbling Clark is almost too hard to take seriously, but his natural confidence in the blue suit was enough to make you wish he really was out there protecting the world.

3. Hugh Jackman as Logan/Wolverine in the X-Men series (2000-present)

While they won’t admit it now, a lot of nerds were unhappy with the initial casting of Jackman as their beloved Wolverine. Largely unknown at the time of the first X-Men‘s 2000 release, Jackman’s portfolio consisted largely of Australian television and musical theatre. Luckily, he embodied the animalistic Wolverine to an impressive extent, and his performance became a fan-favourite, especially when he went full-on ‘berserka rage’ mode in 2003’s X-2.

2. Heath Ledger as The Joker in The Dark Knight (2008)

Ledger’s Oscar-winning final performance will forever live on as a testament to his talent as an actor. It was powerful and scary, yet peppered with moments of very dark humour, a performance only a handful of actors could deliver so well. The best example of this is during the opening bank-robbery, where Ledger introduces the character with movement alone, wearing a mask and without a single line of dialogue.

Last year, the German documentary series Too Young To Die released an episode titled ‘Heath Ledger: Favourite Of The Gods‘, which included a clip of Ledger’s father Kim flipping through a scrapbook that his son kept while preparing for the role. It’s incredible to see just how dedicated Ledger was to his craft, and how immersed he was in the role.

1. Robert Downey Jnr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man in Iron Man 1-3 (2008-present) and The Avengers (2012)

Sure, RDJ’s performance was nowhere near as powerful as Ledger’s Joker, but there’s no denying that he’s completely engulfed himself in the character to the point that it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. The success of the first Iron Man (2008) reignited Downey Jr’s Hollywood A-list status, and did the same for the fictional superhero too: before this, Iron Man was actually one of Marvel’s B-list heroes, but it’s now their biggest-selling movie franchise.

Even off-screen, it’s hard to separate the man from the mask. The way RDJ addressed the crowd at last year’s Comic-Con was almost identical to Tony Stark’s grand entrance during the Stark Expo in the second film. The theme music, the fake Repulsor Rays from an Iron Man suit glove, the thousands of screaming fans… As RDJ says himself at the end of the first film: “I am Iron Man!”

Chris is a Melbourne-based writer who survives on free film and gig tickets. He regularly contributes to various magazines, websites, and on his own blog, He also started a neat little website that reviews films in the form of limerick poems, called The Limerick Review.