Almost every week, it seems as if a new superhero movie is hitting theaters. We’ve already had Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and X-Men: Days of Future Past so far this year, and before the summer is over, we’ll also be treated to Guardians of the Galaxy and a new Sin City film. Although some of these comic book flicks are less successful than others (I’m talking about you, Green Lantern), so many more are memorable and enjoyable movie-going experiences that owe a great deal to their lead actors and actresses, who fully embody the roles of these larger-than-life heroes. Especially in recent years, we’ve seen some incredibly talented actors give amazing performances as members of the Marvel and DC universes. In my opinion, here are the 10 best superhero performances in movies.
Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man
When the first Iron Man hit theaters back in 2008, it pretty much redefined what the superhero could look like. The person saving the day didn’t need to be a haunted individual with a rigid moral code. No, instead, Tony Stark is a self-involved, sarcastic jerk, but we love him because of the charisma and honesty that Robert Downey Jr. brings to the role. Plus, the dude fights off terrorists in a sweet iron-armored suit. How could he not be a superhero?
Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman
Let’s make things clear: Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy is an extraordinary piece of filmmaking, and the the center of these gritty, noir-esque, superhero movies is the strong, consistent performance of Christian Bale. While his Batman voice may be a little ridiculous (get the dude a throat lozenge), Bale, whether he’s Bruce in a tux or the Caped Crusader in his Batsuit, is always tough, focused, and determined. It’s a more quiet and subtle performance than a lot of other ones on this list, but it’s what grounds all the violence and insanity that invades Gotham throughout all three movies.
Brandon Routh as Clark Kent/Superman
I totally realize that with this pick I’m most certainly in the minority, but I may be one of the few people that actually enjoyed Superman Returns and who really believed in Brandon Routh’s portrayal of both Clark Kent and Superman. Even though I think Tom Welling from Smallville is the best Clark Kent/Superman to ever grace any screen, this list is about superhero performances in solely movies, not TV, and if we’re purely talking about the Superman films here, Routh is the one film actor who was able to crack into the humanity and spirit of Clark whether he was saving the citizens of Metropolis or romancing Lois Lane. He truly was super in the role.
Chris Hemsworth as Thor
Thor is an interesting superhero, because he’s not human or really even alien (although you could totally call him an alien if you wanted to). No, Thor is a god with god-like power and pretty sweet hammer. It requires a really gifted actor to take the over-the-top Shakespeare nature of Thor and make him feel real and relatable to a modern audience. However, that’s exactly what Hemsworth has been able to do in both Thor films and in The Avengers through heart, humor, and a whole lot muscle.
Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America
Playing Captain America wasn’t Chris Evans first superhero role (he was the Human Torch in the Fantastic Four films from the early 2000’s), but it was definitely the superhero role that he was most suited for. As Steve Rogers, Evans achieved the perfect balance of rugged American toughness in every action scene he was in and a sweet, tender soulfulness that came across in each moment he shared with Agent Peggy Carter. There’s a reason why Captain America was at the center of The Avengers and why Winter Soldier has been praised as one of the best superhero films of all time, and that has a lot to do with Evans’s stellar performance.
Hugh Jackman as Wolverine
Hugh Jackman is Hugh Jackman. Need I really say more? As Wolverine, Jackman has found the role of his lifetime, as he has made the grouchy, rugged, and hard-nosed X-Men character into arguably the most popular superhero in movies today. It all comes down to the intensity that Jackman injects into each action he takes or line of dialouge he speaks as Wolverine. You can tell how seriously he takes the character, and thus, we as audiences, take him seriously as well and end up connecting with Wolverine just as much (if not more) than any other superhero that has come across the silver screen.
Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle/Catwoman
Confession time: I was ready to hate Anne Hathaway and Catwoman going into The Dark Knight Rises. I don’t have anything personally against Hathaway or really against her talents as an actreess. However, something about her has always just irked me, and I thought it would interfere with my enjoyment of the final Christopher Nolan Batman film. Fortunately, not only did Hathaway shock with me just how electric her performance was, but I would argue that her portrayal of Selina Kyle is the best one to ever be put onto film and, probably, the best part of what was a very good film.
James McAvoy as Charles Xavier/Professor X
I put Jame McAvoy on this list not to shortchange the amazing work that Patrick Stewart did in the first three X-Men films and in Days of Future Past. Yet I have to say that McAvoy’s performance is, in some ways, superior to Stewart’s just because of the different shades he’s able to give Charles Xavier. Whether it’s Professor X’s idealistic hope to unite all mutants together in First Class or the slow but eventual reassembling of his crushed spirit in Days of Future Past, McAvoy provides so much depth to Charles Xavier that I never found in the original three X-Men films. He makes the brilliant man in the wheelchair feel like a real person instead of just a genius mutant. McAvoy gives Xavier a heart to go along with that huge brain of his, and that only makes the character all the more compelling.
Hugo Weaving as V
I know that V is more of a vigilante than a superhero (He murders people! He blows up buildings!), but to me, Hugo Weaving’s performance is just too good not to put on this list. Sure, we never really see V’s face throughout the film (he wears a mask for almost the entirety of the movie), but we also never need to do. And that’s all due to the incredible work that Weaving does. He tells us so much about V just through the slight changes in his voice or the extra heaviness of a sigh. Without such a great actor in the role of V, I’m not if V for Vendetta would have been nearly as good as it was.
Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker/Spider-Man
I know some people love Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man, but for me, it just never clicked. And even though Andrew Garfield is a little too old to make playing the teenage, web-slinging superhero completely believable, his acting makes up for it. As Peter Parker, Garfield nicely handles Peter’s awkward nervousness and the weighty responsibilities of his home life, not to mention the magnetic chemistry he possesses with co-star and real life girlfriend Emma Stone (who plays the gorgeous and intelligent Gwen Stacy). And as Spider-Man, Garfield nails the humor, charisma, and energy that makes Spidey such an iconic comic book character.