42 Academy Award-Winning (and Nominated) Actors Who Followed Up Their Achievement with a Role in a Movie Based on a Comic Book
1 . Marlon Brando
Won: On the Waterfront (Best Actor, 1954), The Godfather (Best Actor, 1972)
Nominated: A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), Viva Zapata! (1952), Julius Caesar (1953), Sayonara (1957), Last Tango in Paris (1973), A Dry White Season (1989)
As hard as it may be to believe today, there was a time when comic books were deemed too juvenile to turn into screenplays. Cartoons, campy TV shows, the occasional low-budget serial — these were seen as proper venues for stories about brawling strongmen in capes, not the silver screen. But 1978’s Superman changed all that, breaking the big-screen barrier for superheroes and making audiences everywhere believe a man can fly. The movie got a boost by the addition of Marlon Brando to the cast; the respected actor was brought in to play Jor-El, Superman’s father, in the opening scenes depicting baby Kal-El’s escape from Krypton. He earned what was then an unheard-of $3.7 million and a percentage of the profits for what amounted to 12 days of work, causing a minor scandal about out-of-control star salaries (ah, innocent times). He was worth it, though; not only did Superman become one of the all-time highest-grossing films, some of the scenes Brando filmed for the movie were used in 2006’s Superman Returns, which came out two years after his death.
2. Gene Hackman
Won: The French Connection (Best Actor, 1971), Unforgiven (Best Supporting Actor, 1992)
Nominated: Bonnie and Clyde (1967), I Never Sang for my Father (1970), Mississippi Burning (1988)
He portrayed arch-villain Lex Luthor in the original Superman movie, a role he reprised in the second and fourth sequels. Hackman refused to shave his head for the role, opting instead to have his character wear a variety of wigs through the movie (he wore a theatrical bald cap in only a few scenes).
3. Ned Beatty
Nominated: Network (1976)
The affable character actor lent his comedic talents to the first two Superman movies, playing the bumbling henchman Otis to Gene Hackman’s “Mr. LOOTH-or.”
4. Jackie Cooper
Nominated: Skippy (1931)
Nominated at age 9 for his starring role in a movie based on a popular comic strip, Cooper capped his long career by playing gruff newspaper editor Perry White in the first four films in the Superman franchise.
5. Faye Dunaway
Won: Network (Best Actress, 1976)
Nominated: Bonnie and Clyde (1967), Chinatown (1974)
One of those hottest actresses of the 1970s, Dunaway starred opposite a young Helen Slater in the much-maligned Supergirl (1984), in which she portrayed a witch who stumbles across a device that gives her the power to rule the world.
6. Louis Gossett, Jr.
Won: An Officer and a Gentleman (Best Supporting Actor, 1982)
After winning the top prize for his portrayal of a naval officer, Gossett went on to star in a series of action/sci-fi films and straight-to-video features, including The Punisher (1989), a film in which he played police officer Jake Berkowitz opposite action star Dolph Lundgren.
7. Alan Arkin
Won: Little Miss Sunshine (Best Supporting Actor, 2006)
Nominated: The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming (1966), The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1968)
“You look like a hood ornament,” deadpans Arkin’s character, A. ‘Peevy’ Peabody, while sizing up Bill Campbell’s title character in The Rocketeer (1991). And, to be fair, he kinda did.
8. Willem Dafoe
Nominated: Platoon (1986), Shadow of the Vampire (2000)
Best known for playing soldiers, law enforcement agents, or eccentric characters – not to mention a turn as Jesus in Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) – Dafoe did most of his own stunts as the Green Goblin in Spider-Man (2002), returning to make cameo appearances in the following sequels.
9-10. Rosemary Harris & Cliff Robertson
Won (Robertson): Charly (Best Actor, 1968)
Nominated (Harris): Tom & Viv (1994)
He’s an actor noted for such iconic roles as John F. Kennedy (PT 109) and Hugh Hefner (Star 80). She is a British-born actress and Broadway star with a number of television and theatre awards under her belt. But to Spider-Man fans, they will forevermore be known as Uncle Ben and Aunt May, teaching a young Tobey Maguire something about great power and responsibility throughout three Spider-Man films.
11. Ben Affleck
Won: Good Will Hunting (Best Original Screenplay, 1997)
Yes, he won an Oscar, people. Get over it already. He also did a not-half-bad job portraying the super-sensitive titular hero of 2003’s Daredevil. There, I said it. Anyone got a problem with that, see me after class.
12. Sean Connery
Won: The Untouchables (Best Supporting Actor, 1987)
Connery found everlasting fame portraying the suave secret agent James Bond, but it was his supporting role as a crusty cop in The Untouchables that finally made the Academy sit up and take notice. There wasn’t much chance he would repeat that feat playing an aging Alan Quatermain in the big-screen adaptation of Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentleman (2003), given the film’s legendary detour from the source material. But at least he looked like he had fun making it.
13. Jennifer Connelly
Won: A Beautiful Mind (Best Supporting Actress, 2001)
She won an Oscar for portraying the love interest of a troubled genius, so it probably wasn’t much of a stretch for her to take on the role of Betty Ross, the beautiful scientist who is drawn to the bookish Bruce Banner in Ang Lee’s Hulk (2003). It wasn’t the first time Connelly played opposite a superheroic leading man: also she co-starred with Arkin in The Rocketeer (1991), the Disney movie based on Dave Stevens’ graphic novel.
14. Halle Berry
Won: Monster’s Ball (Best Actress, 2001)
True, she earned her Best Actress Oscar for a film that came out after her turn as the mutant hero Storm in 2000’s X-Men (a role she would revisit in the two sequels that followed), but she followed up her Oscar win with the title role in Catwoman (2004) -– a performance so uniformly panned she became only the third woman in history to be awarded both an Oscar for Best Actress and a Razzie Award for Worst Actress.
15. Michael Caine
Won: Hannah and her Sisters (Best Supporting Actor, 1986), The Cider House Rules (Best Supporting Actor, 1999)
Nominated: Alfie (1966), Sleuth (1972), Educating Rita (1983), The Quiet American (2004)
“I am in so many movies that are on TV at 2:00 a.m. that people think I am dead,” the British actor once joked, a nod to both his long career and his penchant for choosing roles in both forgettable and unforgettable films. Among the unforgettable: Christopher Nolan’s trilogy of Batman films, starting with Batman Begins in 2005, in which Caine played the unflappable Alfred Pennyworth.
16. Morgan Freeman
Won: Million Dollar Baby (Best Supporting Actor, 2004)
Nominated: Street Smart (1987), Driving Miss Daisy (1989), The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
His authoritative voice and calm demeanor have made Freeman the actor of choice for directors seeking a reassuring authority figure. No surprise, then, he joined fellow Oscar alum Michael Caine on the set of Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008), and The Dark Knight Rises (2012), portraying engineering genius Lucius Fox.
17. Thomas Haden Church
Nominated: Sideways (2004)
After his breakthrough performance in Sideways (and, um, “Wings”), Church’s next major project was Spider-Man 3, in which he played the troubled Sandman. Director Sam Raimi thanked Church for accepting the role by giving him a copy of Amazing Spider-Man #4, a highly sought-after issue containing the first comic-book appearance of Spider-Man’s arch-foe.
18. Nicolas Cage
Won: Leaving Las Vegas (Best Actor, 1995)
Nominated: Adaptation (2002)
The nephew of Francis Ford Coppola (he changed his surname to “Cage” to avoid nepotism), Cage is one of Hollywood’s most noted comic-book fans (ask his son, Kal-El). For years, his name was attached to Superman Returns, and he was later in the running for the role of the Green Goblin in Spider-Man. He finally scored a superhero role in Ghost Rider (2007), playing the tortured stunt cyclist in two films to date.
19. Peter Fonda
Nominated: Easy Rider (1969), Ulee’s Gold (1997)
Son of Henry and father of Bridget, this scion of a noted Hollywood family took on the diabolical role of Mephistopheles opposite Nicolas Cage in Ghost Rider (2007).
20. Lawrence Fishburne
Nominated: What’s Love Got to Do with It (1993)
Perhaps best known for his role as the enigmatic Morpheus in The Matrix and its sequels, Fishburne brought his talents to the fore in The Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007), in which Marvel’s first family squares off against a CGI’ed extraterrestrial threat voiced by Fishburne. He has also been tapped to play Daily Planet editor Perry White in 2013’s Man of Steel.
21. Jeff Bridges
Nominated: The Last Picture Show (1971), Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974), Starman (1984), The Contender (2000)
The man behind Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski in The Big Lebowski, among other unforgettable roles, got in touch with his evil side in Iron Man (2008), playing ethically challenged industrialist Obadiah Stane.
22. Robert Downey, Jr.
Nominated: Chaplin (1992)
And speaking of Iron Man… the actor, who’s perhaps as well known for his rehab stints as he is for his acting talents, secured the role of billionaire industrialist Tony Stark in the smash hit of 2008 –- an apt choice, given the character’s own battles with alcoholism. He’s since stayed clean and sober through Iron Man 2 (2010), 2012’s The Avengers, and a third Iron Man movie set for release in 2013
23. Tom Hanks
Won: Philadelphia (Best Actor, 1993), Forrest Gump (Best Actor, 1994)
Nominated: Big (1988), Saving Private Ryan (1998), Cast Away (2000)
One of Hollywood’s most bankable stars, Hanks excels at playing ordinary men thrust into extraordinary situations — a talent that served him well in Road to Perdition (2002), a movie based on Max Allan Collin’s graphic novel about a mob hitman with a sense of honor and a son to protect.
24. John Hurt
Nominated: Midnight Express (1978), The Elephant Man (1980)
He played Winston Smith, a victim of a totalitarian government, in the 1984 adaptation of George Orwell’s classic 1984, so it seemed only fitting he would get the chance to head a similar regime in V for Vendetta (2005). The British actor also showed up on set for Hellboy (2003), playing a scientist father figure to Ron Perlman’s title character.
25. Samuel L. Jackson
Nominated: Pulp Fiction (2004)
Jackson was the natural choice to play the tough-as-nails Nick Fury in the Marvel movie universe starting with 2008’s Iron Man (2008); prior to that film, the creators behind the Gen. Nick Fury character in the Marvel Ultimates line-up of titles asked Jackson for permission to borrow his likeness for the character’s updated look.
26. Tommy Lee Jones
Won: The Fugitive (Best Supporting Actor, 1993)
Nominated: JFK (1991)
A look at Jones’s résumé reveals a stack of military and police roles, and no wonder – the man commands authority. He continued his streak with the roles of Agent K, the senior agent in the Men in Black films inspired by a comic about the figures of urban legend, and Col. Phillips, the military man assigned to Project Rebirth in 2011’s Captain America. He also took on the role of Harvey Dent/Two-Face in 1995’s Batman Forever… but I won’t mention that if you won’t.
27. William H. Macy
Nominated: Fargo (1996)
The respected character actor did battle against evil in Mystery Men (1999) as the Shoveler, a superhero that’s the best at what he does.
28. Sir Ian McKellen
Nominated: Gods and Monsters (1998), The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
One of England’s consummate thespians, Sir Ian (he was knighted in 1990) has swung from Shakespeare to superheroes over the course of his career, with some of his most noted roles in the 2000s including Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and arch-villain Magneto in the X-Men franchise.
29. Nick Nolte
Nominated: The Prince of Tides (1991), Affliction (1997)
The star of 48 Hrs. and Down and Out in Beverly Hills, he was considered for the role of Superman in the 1978 film, and later starred as Bruce Banner’s mentally disturbed father (to say the least) in 2003’s Hulk.
30. Gwyneth Paltrow
Won: Shakespeare in Love (Best Actress, 1998)
An actress who has so far shown no fear in accepting challenging roles, Paltrow played the role of faithful Virginia “Pepper” Potts in the big-screen version of Iron Man (2008) and its 2010 sequel.
31. Anna Paquin
Won: The Piano (Best Supporting Actress, 1993)
A few years after becoming the second-youngest actor to ever win an Oscar, Paquin landed the coveted role of Rogue, one of several young mutant heroes in the X-Men trilogy.
32. Michelle Pfeiffer
Nominated: Dangerous Liaisons (1988), The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989), Love Field (2002)
One of Hollywood’s sexiest leading ladies in the 1980s and 1990s, Pfeiffer has remarked that her Catwoman costume for Batman Returns (1992) was so tight she often had only a short time to perform before she had to get out of it or risk passing out. One can only hope she can agree with the millions of filmgoers who will insist it was worth the trouble.
33. Natalie Portman
Won: Black Swan (Best Actress, 2011)
Nominated: Closer (2004)
The young actress followed up her Oscar nomination and role as Anakin Skywalker’s love interest in the Star Wars movies with the role of Evey in V for Vendetta (2005), a tense thriller set in a future Britain run by a fascist government. Then there was a certain film in which she caught a proud Norse god’s eye…
34. Anthony Hopkins
Won: The Silence of the Lambs (Best Actor, 1991)
Nominated: The Remains of the Day (1993), Nixon (1995), Amistad (1997)
Speaking of Thor, why was the man who once immortalized Hannibal Lecter perfect for the role of Odin in 2011’s Thor? As he once told the Los Angeles Times: “I play the god who banishes his son from the kingdom of Asgard because he screwed up. He’s a hot-headed, temperamental young man… probably a chip off of the old block but I decide he’s not really ready to rule the future kingdom, so I banish him. I’m harsh and my wife complains and I say, ‘That is why I’m king.’ He’s ruthless, take-it-or-leave-it. Women are much more forgiving; men are not so forgiving. I know in my life, my karma is, ‘If you don’t like it, tough, move on.’ And I move on. I’m a little like Odin myself.”
35. Geoffrey Rush
Won: Shine (Best Actor, 1996)
Nominated: Shakespeare in Love (1998), Quills (2000)
With a name like Casanova Frankenstein, there was simply no chance Rush’s character in Mystery Men (1999), a superhero parody based on a strip in the surreal Flaming Carrot Comics, could be anything but an evil super-villain genius.
36. Eva Marie Saint
Won: On the Waterfront (Best Actress, 1954)
Her portrayal of Edie Doyle opposite Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront is still one of the great performances in movie history, but it was her role as Martha Kent in Superman Returns (2006) that most comic-book movie fans will likely remember.
37. Kevin Spacey
Won: The Usual Suspects (Best Supporting Actor, 1995), American Beauty (Best Actor, 1999)
Spacey has shown a knack for portraying characters with a dark side, and they don’t come much darker than Lex Luthor in Superman Returns (2006). It was the second time Spacey shaved his head bald to portray a villainous character (the first was in 1995’s Se7en).
38. Terence Stamp
Nominated: Billy Budd (1963)
He put his indelible stamp on the role of the power-mad General Zod in Superman (1978) and Superman II (1980). After a number of critically acclaimed films, including 1999’s The Limey, he later signed on to play Jennifer Garner’s blind martial arts mentor, Stick, in Elektra (2005).
39. Sharon Stone
Nominated: Casino (1995)
The sex symbol best known for playing strong and/or psychotic leading ladies took a swipe at Catwoman (2004), playing an evil cosmetics company executive. Oddly enough, an “evil cosmetics company executive” was the least of the movie’s conceptual weaknesses.
40. Uma Thurman
Nominated: Pulp Fiction (1994)
Thurman’s turn as a gangster’s wife in Quentin Tarantino’s classic film earned her a nomination for Best Supporting Actress; it was perhaps a stretch to expect the same from her role as Poison Ivy in Batman & Robin (1997), the fourth and justly maligned film in the Batman franchise.
41. John Travolta
Nominated: Saturday Night Fever (1977), Pulp Fiction (1994)
The actor who revived his career with his role as a sympathetic hitman in Pulp Fiction and a Hollywood-obsessed gangster in Get Shorty took on a darker role in The Punisher (2004), portraying the ironically named Howard Saint opposite Thomas Jane’s title character.
42. Christopher Walken
Won: The Deer Hunter (Best Supporting Actor, 1978)
Nominated: Catch Me If You Can (2002)
The actor best known for his unnerving portrayal of psychopaths and other mentally unstable characters stayed true to form in Batman Returns (1992), playing Max Shreck, a villainous department store owner who tries to murder Selina Kyle and plots the Penguin’s rise to the mayor’s office so he can control all of Gotham’s power supply. Whatever his faults, the man knew how to multi-task.