This weekend, Ryan Reynolds finally has a hit superhero film in Deadpool, after stumbling through a number of films that failed to live up at the box office or with fan’s expectations for the character. But with the explosion of comic book-based movies over the last several years, Reynolds is not the only actor with three comic book character roles on his filmography. By our count, there are nine others who have transformed four-color characters into big screen portrayals. (Note: We are not counting actors who appeared in comic book films as characters created specifically for the film.)
Ben Affleck – Later this year, we will see Ben Affleck swing into action as Batman in Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice. But did you know he also, in a round about way, played the other side of that fight card? In the 2006 film Hollywoodland, Affleck played real-life actor George Reeves, whose death in 1959 was ruled a suicide despite there being strong evidence to the contrary. In the course of the film, Affleck portrayed Reeves acting in his most famous role, that of Superman in the 1950s TV series. OK, maybe we’re fudging things just a bit to get Affleck onto this list, but Hollywoodland is such a good, but underrated, film that we wanted to call your attention to it. Of course, Affleck’s first superhero gig was, of course, 2004’s Daredevil.
Tommy Lee Jones – The oldest actor on this list also has the distinction of playing one of the oldest comic characters to ever make it to the big screen. His Col. Phillips in Captain America: The First Avenger appeared all the way back in Cap’s premier comic back in 1940. But that is only his latest comic book character on his resume. Previously, he turned in a memorable performance as Agent Kay in the Men In Black films, based on the Malibu Comics series and a wish-one-could-forget-it performance as Two-Face in Batman Forever.
Ben Foster – Ben Foster hasn’t quite had the role that would break him out from supporting to lead player in a film, but three of those supporting roles have been in comic book adaptations. In 2004, he assisted Thomas Janes’ Punisher as the spaced out Spacker Dave. He was more of a hero in X-Men: The Last Stand as fan favorite mutant Angel, but for 2007’s 30 Days Of Night he played The Stranger, harbinger of the vampire attack on a small Alaskan town.
Brandon Routh – Routh’s film career started with perhaps his most high-profile superhero role, following Christopher Reeve’s iconic Superman portrayal in 2006’s Superman Returns. Whether or not director Bryan Singer’s decision to make the film a direct sequel to 1981’s Superman II is a point for debate, it can not be denied that Routh did a good job filling in for the late Reeve. His next comic book film appearance was in a supporting role as one of the evil exes that must be defeated in Scott Pilgrim Vs The World, before taking the lead in an adaptation of the Italian fumetti Dylan Dog: Dead Of Night. Routh is currently superheroing on the small screen as The Atom on the CW’s interconnected Arrow/The Flash/Legends Of Tomorrow series.
Idris Elba – The imposing actor is probably best known for his baritone voice and piercing eyes, making him a perfect choice for his recurring role as Heimdel, guardian of the Bifrost Bridge to Asgard in the Thor films from Marvel. And while his Marvel character has not crossed paths with Chris Evan’s Captain America yet, the two did fight side-by-side in the adaptation of the Vertigo espionage thriller series The Losers in 2010. His work as the monk Moreau was one of the few highlights of the trainwreck that was Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance.
Jim Carrey – Playing a virtual cartoon character in the real world seemed like natural casting for the rubbery-faced Jim Carrey and The Mask proved to be a great film to propel his career to the next level. Unfortunately, that level of manic energy was what was exactly not needed to play the Riddler in 1995’s Batman Forever, but that miscalculation was just one of many that sunk that film. Carrey did turn a slightly more nuanced performance nearly two decades later in 2013’s Kick-Ass 2.
Scarlett Johansson – Scarlett Johansson is the only female actor who has appeared three comic book roles. Even rarer, a majority of those roles have been good. As Rebecca, best friend to Thora Birch’s Enid, Johansson’s role in director Terry Zwigoff ‘s adaptation of Daniel Clowes’s graphic novel Ghost World, the actress first earned critical notice as someone who’s career should be watched. As Black Widow, Johansson has provided vital support in Marvel’s Iron Man, Captain America and Avengers films and proved that there is plenty of fan support for a solo film for her. (If only Marvel could get on that anytime soon.) Unfortunately, not even a tongue-in-cheek performance as femme fatale Silken Floss could save the disaterous 2008 film The Spirit. Johansson is currently adding a fourth comic book role to her resume by leading the cast of the live action adaptation of the manga Ghost In The Shell, which will be in theaters next year.
Samuel L Jackson – Like Johnasson, Samuel L Jackson has appeared in numerous Marvel films as SHIELD spymaster Nick Fury. Unfortunately, like Johansson, Jackson too has appeared in the disappointing The Spirit. Fortunately, his other other turn as a comic book bad guy, in 2014’s Kingsman: The Secret Service, was a much better performance in a much better movie overall.
Chris Evans – Chris Evans holds the distinction of being the only actor who has played two A-list Marvel Comics heroes. Before he slipped into the star-spangled armor of Captain America for Marvel Studios’ cycle of films, Evans played the brash Johnny Storm, aka The Human Torch, for Fox’s first attempt at bringing the Fantastic Four to the screen. (The fact that I find his portrayal of Johnny Storm to be irritatingly obnoxious while his Steve Rogers/Captain America to be so spot on is probably a testament to the actor’s ability.) Additionally, he was a member of the titular ensemble of mercenaries in The Losers alongside Idris Elba and stood among the evil exes of Scott Pilgrim Vs The World with Brandon Routh.