Superhero movies are known for their blockbuster, money-making appeal, but they can also produce some stellar performances.
Acting goes overlooked for most moviegoers when watching a superhero movie. And you generally don’t see actors in superhero movies nominated for big awards like the Oscars (except for that one time).
But there are plenty of performances that are not only great on their own terms, but capture what makes their respective characters so great. The best superhero movie performances take what’s on the comic book page and add another layer to it on the screen.
We looked at the best performances in superhero movies to determine the top 20. The only rule was that we picked a specific movie – for instance, Robert Downey Jr. has played Iron Man in multiple movies throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but which one is he the best in?
Some movies will repeat because they have more than one memorable performance that warranted a spot on this list. Characters could repeat, as well. We all know how susceptible to reboots these movies are.
From villains to heroes and supporting characters, these are the 20 best superhero movie performances:
20. Letitia Wright as Shuri in “Black Panther”
Letitia Wright stole every scene in “Black Panther” as the title character’s genius sister, and became a fan favourite in the process.
19. Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent/Two-Face in “The Dark Knight” (2008)
Eckhart’s performance as Gotham City District Attorney Harvey Dent, who is tragically disfigured and driven mad, is overshadowed by Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker in “The Dark Knight.” But we believe Dent’s sudden transformation because of Eckhart’s acting.
18. Danny DeVito as Oswald Cobblepot/The Penguin in “Batman Returns” (1992)
Danny DeVito’s portrayal of The Penguin is over-the-top and disgusting, but he does it as only he can. The character hasn’t been seen on screen since, and it would be hard for anyone else to top.
17. Ron Perlman as Hellboy in “Hellboy” (2004)
Perlman was pitch-perfect casting as the demonic superhero Hellboy in Guillermo del Toro’s film, capturing both his brutish nature and the sadness within him. “Stranger Things” star David Harbour will play the character in an upcoming reboot, and he has big shoes to fill.
16. Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne/Batman in “Batman” (1989)
Everyone has their favourite Batman/Bruce Wayne actor, but it’s hard to argue with Michael Keaton. The, “You wanna get nuts? Lets get nuts!” line delivery alone puts him at the top.
15. Tom Hiddleston as Loki in “Thor: Ragnarok” (2017)
Hiddleston’s Loki is a fan favourite villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and he’s at his best in “Ragnarok” where Loki’s evolution as a character truly shines.
14. Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spider-Man in “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (2017)
My favourite “Spider-Man” movie is “Spider-Man 2,” but while Tobey Maguire was a fine Spider-Man, Tom Holland truly personifies everything great about the character. Spider-Man was originally created as a relatable teenager, with all the problems of a teenager while still balancing how to be a superhero, and Holland is the first Spider-Man actor who nails that.
13. Ryan Reynolds as Wade Wilson/Deadpool in “Deadpool” (2016)
Ryan Reynolds was born to play Deadpool. It’s as simple as that. He spent years trying to get the character the big screen, solo movie treatment, and when it finally happened, he didn’t disappoint.
12. Margot Kidder as Lois Lane in “Superman” (1978)
The late Margot Kidder is the best actress to play Lois Lane. She embodied the character’s toughness and intelligence better than anyone else, and was perfect alongside Superman actor Christopher Reeve.
11. Michael B. Jordan as Erik Killmonger in “Black Panther”
People sympathized with the villain Killmonger, and many moviegoers even felt he was right in “Black Panther,” though his methods were questionable. Jordan showed his bad-guy acting chops in the role, while also maintaining the character’s internal struggle throughout the movie.
10. Josh Brolin as Thanos in “Avengers: Infinity War” (2018)
Brolin was surprisingly emotive as the “Infinity War” big bad, and made us even feel sympathetic toward a genocidal mad man. The audience could tell he was having a good time in the role, but he also delivered a powerful performance that towered over the huge, all-star cast.
9. Ian McKellen as Eric Lensherr/Magneto in “X2: X-Men United” (2003)
In his second outing as X-Men villain Magneto, McKellen brought even more of his A-game. The scene in which he escapes from the plastic prison is a highlight of “X2,” in large part because McKellen acts the heck out of it – just as he does in every other scene.
8. Gal Gadot as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman in “Wonder Woman” (2017)
Gadot’s comical confusion as Diana when thrust into the world beyond her island home of Themyscira, along with her ferociousness when charging into battle, proved she was the perfect person to bring Wonder Woman to life.
7. Alfred Molina as Otto Octavius/Doctor Octopus in “Spider-Man 2”
The “Spider-Man 2” interpretation of the web-slinger’s classic foe, Doctor Octopus, is one of the best comic-to-film interpretations of a villain yet, and that’s mainly due to Molina’s performance, from the friendly mentorship to Peter Parker to the sympathetic quest for vengeance that drives him mad.
6. Jack Nicholson as The Joker in “Batman” (1989)
Even with Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning portrayal of the Joker, Jack Nicholson’s nearly 30-year-old performance still holds up. Nicholson let loose all of his wild impulses to bring the character to life.
5. Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man in “Iron Man” (2008)
Downey Jr. saw a career comeback with his pitch-perfect casting as Tony Stark/Iron Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s debut. We didn’t know it at the time, but he would go on to make his mark as the character for another decade. But it was in “Iron Man” that he gave his best performance as the cocky but conscientious billionaire-turned-superhero.
4. Christopher Reeve as Clark Kent/Superman in “Superman” (1978)
Reeve was the perfect on-screen Superman, and embodied the character’s best attributes: his awkward charm as Clark Kent and his Boy Scout nobility as Superman.
3. Michelle Pfeiffer as Selina Kyle/Catwoman in “Batman Returns” (1992)
Still the best Catwoman, Pfeiffer’s portrayal was everything that makes the character who she is and more: seductive, mysterious, and complicated. Screenwriter John August recently revealed on Twitter a “Batman Returns” sequel starring Catwoman that he pitched to Warner Bros. in 1998 – it started infinitely better than the Halle Berry-starring “Catwoman” we actually got.
2. Heath Ledger as The Joker in “The Dark Knight” (2008)
Ledger posthumously won the Oscar for best supporting actor for his portrayal of Batman’s arch-nemesis, The Joker. It’s often regarded as the best performance in a superhero movie, and one of the best villainous performances of all time.
1. Hugh Jackman as Logan/Wolverine in “Logan” (2017)
Jackman played Wolverine for 17 years, and he gave it his all in his last hurrah as the character, capturing Logan’s loneliness, anger, and overall pain that had piled up over the years. It wasn’t just Jackman’s final bow, it was the character’s as well, and the audience felt it right up until his last breath.
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