Some time ago we posted an article on article on films to study for inspiration from an acting perspective. It was a list of undeniably great performances we’ve seen over the years, from several of Hollywood’s very best actors. In this post, we’ll take a similar look back at some of the most outstanding work we’ve seen in the superhero genre.
Once viewed as a sort of cheesy niche within the action genre, superhero films have all but taken over Hollywood in the past decade. It’s now common to see A-list stars doing their very best work within the realms of DC and Marvel adventures. So without further ado, here are five incredible acting jobs we’ve seen in superhero films this century.
The Joker (Heath Ledger)
Any list like this one has to start with Heath Ledger’s incredible turn as Batman’s greatest adversary in The Dark Knight. There’s an element of tragedy to this performance, as it marked new heights for Ledger just before his accidental and gravely premature death in 2008. But the performance itself was breathtaking. Ledger was considered by many, including co-star Gary Oldman, to be a strange pick to play The Joker. And yet, he took on a role that essentially belonged to Jack Nicholson and made it his own. He won a posthumous Academy Award, which made him the only actor in a modern superhero film to have earned such an honour.
Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.)
Earlier this year, Marvel.com published a list of their top-75 comics of all time, as voted by fans, and not a single standalone Iron Man comic cracked the top 25. Granted, there are a few comics in this range that include Iron Man, but it’s quite clear from a comic standpoint that he’s not as much of a fan favourite as some of his peers. But just try telling that to a modern film fan. Iron Man has essentially become the face of the Marvel cinematic universe, and it’s almost entirely due to the charisma and humour of Robert Downey, Jr.’s Tony Stark. Beginning with Iron Man in 2008 and stretching through two sequels and The Avengers, Downey, Jr. has been a relentlessly entertaining figure. There’s some risk that his eccentricities could become so
mewhat repetitive if he’s Tony Stark too many more times (think Jack Sparrow), but for now his work is some of the best in the genre.
Wolverine (Hugh Jackman)
Granted, X-Men Origins: Wolverine may just be the worst Marvel film to-date. But aside from that effort, Hugh Jackman has done a remarkable job of making the Wolverine character his own. Fans of comics and early-’90s arcade games may still recall Wolverine as a beast-like, yellow-clad character, but Jackman has turned him into something more rugged and real, and somehow all the more sensational. And remarkably, his image has begun to replace that of the iconic black-and-yellow Wolverine mask. Even in modern gaming—it’s hard to shake the idea that the old Wolverine just looks like a video game character—Jackman has won out. The popular X-Men slot machine game hosted at Betfair Casino uses his likeness to promote the game. It essentially takes an action-packed turn on ordinary slot gaming, but Jackman is right at the centre. Similarly, the X-Men Origins: Wolverine video game, which was far better than the film, adopts Jackman’s persona when it could have chosen to resemble the comics. All of this is due to just how enjoyable Jackman’s harsh and uncompromising take on the character has been on screen. To make Wolverine his own was no small feat.
Batman (Christian Bale)
The Joker stole the show, in terms of acting, in Christopher Nolan’s epic Batman trilogy. And there are also plenty of outstanding supporting performances throughout the series (like Gary Oldman). But if anything, Christian Bale’s work as the Dark Knight himself has become somewhat underrated, overshadowed by the greatness of the trilogy as a whole. Troubled, haunted and motivated in Batman Begins; determinedly ethical in The Dark Knight; and resilient and heroic in The Dark Knight Rises, he took the character through an impressive roller-coaster of transformations. Not to mention he pulled off the best, if somewhat ridiculous, “Batman voice” we’ve yet heard from an actor in costume. If the Dark Knight trilogy is the best of the Batman film projects, it’s foolish not t
o count Bale among the best actors in modern superhero cinema.
Thor (Chris Hemsworth)
Marvel covered new ground with the release of Thor, in that for the first time in modern cinema it left Earth and explored a cosmic superhero. The result could have been disastrous, as this requires a bigger leap of fantasy tolerance among fans. However, the film was met with a great deal of success and served as the setup for The Avengers. The main reason for this is that Chris Hemsworth, who looks like he was born to play Thor, injected an irresistible charm and humour into the role. Sure, he’s the God of Thunder, but he’s also a devil-may-care bad boy with a smile as deadly as his hammer. Hemsworth’s comic timing is sensational in the films, and even as he seems larger-than-life, he somehow makes a god seem vulnerable at times, too. It’s really quite a performance by Hemsworth.