These days, getting cast as a comic book character is like making partner: it's the way for an actor to know that they've truly arrived in Hollywood. Over the years, an army of performers have taken on innumerable comic book roles -- heroes and villains alike. Some actors have become absolute icons for their pitch perfect performances, while others have been lambasted for their downright terrible takes on legendary characters.
However, there's another category that we seldom address: actors whose comic book performances don't get enough credit. We've compiled a list of the eight most underrated comic book movie performances of all time. From Marvel to DC, these actors took on beloved characters, and gave uniformly commendable performances, even if they haven't received the praise that they truly deserve. Take a look at our entries and let us know what you think the most underrated comic book movie performance of all time is. Now let's get started with one of the best DC villain portrayals in recent memory...
Kevin Spacey - Lex Luthor (Superman Returns)
Bryan Singer's Superman Returns has experienced a resurgence in popularity in recent years, as more and more people have come to respect its status as a love letter to the Richard Donner era of Superman films. However, the one aspect of the film that has always deserved credit is Kevin Spacey's take on Kal-El's chrome-domed arch nemesis, Lex Luthor. Spacey absolutely owns every single one of his scenes as Luthor, and while he clearly has a ton of fun chewing the scenery as the iconic DC villain, he does it with far more reverence for the source material than Jesse Eisenberg's recent take. He's primarily remembered for the meme-worthy screaming of the word "WRONG!" but there's so much more to his performance than that.
Willem Dafoe - Norman Osborn (Spider-Man)
As many of you already know, Willem Dafoe was almost cast as The Joker in 1989's Batman, and his work in Spider-Man showed all of us what that could've looked like. Everyone likes to heap praise upon Alfred Molina for his portrayal of Doc Ock in Spider-Man 2, but in doing that they seem to forget the beautiful camp of Willem Dafoe's Green Goblin. Sam Raimi's original Spider-Man will forever be remembered as a quintessentially Raimi B-movie, and Dafoe's performance capitalizes on that style by harkening back to a classic Spidey cartoon. The actor commits every muscle in his body to making Norman Osborn as theatrical and menacing as possible, and it's arguably one of the best Marvel villain performances ever captured on film.
Cillian Murphy - Scarecrow (Batman Begins)
The only villain to appear on all three of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight films, Cillian Murphy's Jonathan Crane is a near-perfect adaptation of the iconic fear-obsessed Batman rogue. The actor clearly understood the Nolan universe, as he nearly took on the role of Bruce Wayne before Christian Bale nabbed the part. As Scarecrow, Murphy utterly inhabits the mind of the psychotic psychiatrist and hides a deep, dark evil behind his wiry and unthreatening appearance. Jonathan Crane has the most exposure in the fear-themed Batman Begins, but his appearances in The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises continuously reinforce the idea that he's one of those pesky villains that Bale's Batman never permanently put away.
Edward Norton - Bruce Banner (The Incredible Hulk)
Although Mark Ruffalo has become the definitive Bruce Banner for many modern Marvel fans, Edward Norton's initial run as The Hulk in 2008's The Incredible Hulk will forever go down in history as a missed opportunity. A much darker and less in-control version of Banner, Edward Norton sold the unlucky hero as a brilliant scientist with his back against the wall -- a stark contrast to Ruffalo's more hip, 'Doctors without Borders' take on the character. While most people rightfully consider The Incredible Hulk to be a black eye on the history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (even though it's not as bad as you remember), it would be wrong to say that the film's shortcomings were Edward Norton's fault.
Mark Strong - Sinestro (Green Lantern)
Martin Campbell's Green Lantern was a complete mess. From top to bottom, it failed and there's no getting around it. Having said that, every time Mark Strong appeared on screen as Sinestro, we got a glimpse of what the movie could've been. Even through CGI and a terrible script, Strong delivered a pitch perfect Sinestro ripped straight from the pages of DC comics, and we will forever wonder what a sequel could have looked like if Warner Bros. had cultivated the Sinestro Corps storyline that they were so obviously working towards. If the DCEU wants to salvage anything from the 2011 sci-fi disaster, it's Mark Strong and his amazing take on Hal Jordan's former mentor.
Liev Schreiber - Sabretooth (X-Men Origins: Wolverine)
Look, we know that X-Men Origins: Wolverine is pretty much indefensibly awful in terms of raw filmmaking, but that doesn't mean that the film doesn't feature a couple of solid performances. Of course, Hugh Jackman delivered everything we have come to know and love about the titular adamantium-clawed hero, but Liev Schreiber surprised all of us with his intense take on Victor Creed a.k.a Sabretooth. Originally a one-note villain in the very first X-Men movie (played by Tyler Mane in that film), Schreiber gave the mutant villain a far greater degree of depth and character than we could've expected. Schreiber had incredible chemistry with Jackman in the otherwise forgettable movie and we seriously hope that the Ray Donovan actor gets a chance to interact with Wolverine one more time before Jackman hangs up the claws for good.
Anne Hathaway - Selina Kyle (The Dark Knight Rises)
Sure, most people generally consider Michelle Pfeiffer the quintessential, modern Catwoman, but Anne Hathaway's take on Selina Kyle in The Dark Knight Rises is nearly perfect, and instantly recognizable to fans of the source material. A conduit for Christopher Nolan to preach about the ideas of economic inequality, Hathaway completely sells her version of Catwoman (just "The Cat" in this film) as a scrappy survivor with skills, tools, and temperament to match that of Bruce Wayne. Arguably the best scene in the entirety of TDKR is the sequence in which Catwoman fights her way out of an ambush in a Gotham City bar using her combat skills and unassuming appearance. Why everyone only seems to talk about Tom Hardy's Bane and the Talia Al Ghul twist continues to baffle us.
Sam Rockwell - Justin Hammer (Iron Man 2)
Marvel's villain problem dates back to the earliest days of the MCU, but no one ever gives Sam Rockwell's performance in Iron Man 2 nearly as much praise as it deserves. As Justin Hammer, Rockwell sold us on the anti-Tony Stark, a man bitter from making a career out of coming in second place. Despite Rockwell's natural charm, he played Hammer as a man with no real charisma of his own, who built an empire out of copying the success of the Stark family. Iron Man 2 unfortunately boiled down to a conflict between Mickey Rourke's Ivan Vanko and Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man, but the film should've been a battle between these rivaling industrialists. Let's hope that we someday get an Iron Man 4 to bring Justin Hammer back into the fold.
Val Kilmer - Batman (Batman Forever)
Somewhere out there in the multiverse, there's an Earth in which Val Kilmer starred in a Batman movie that Joel Schumacher didn't direct. Much like Timothy Dalton's short-lived tenure as James Bond, Val Kilmer will forever be identified as a Batman far too ahead of his time. Saddled with a movie undeserving of his talents, Kilmer gave audiences a version of the Dark Knight grounded in real psychological trauma, and combined it with the best physicality the series had seen until Christian Bale stepped into the role in 2005. Batman Forever had quite a few problems, but everything went well with Kilmer's performance. It's time for us to address the fact that Val Kilmer is actually one of the better Batman actors to ever don the cape and cowl, as unlikely as it may seem.
Originally from Connecticut, Conner grew up in San Diego and graduated from Chapman University in 2014. He now lives in Los Angeles working in and around the entertainment industry and can mostly be found binging horror movies and chugging coffee.
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