18+ Awesome Examples of Actors Returning to a Comic-Book Franchise to Play a Different Role
Stunt casting, legacy casting, fan service — whatever you want to call it, it’s when an actor is cast in a film or TV show specifically as a nod to fans of earlier works in the franchise.
You see this a lot when a film is based on an earlier TV show (think cameos by the original TV cast in the film versions of Lost in Space or The Brady Bunch), or when a TV franchise is revived for a new audience (like when Richard “Apollo” Hatch from the original Battlestar Galactica was brought back for the newer series to play a terrorist-turned-politician).
Below are some of the more fun examples of legacy casting in films and shows based on comic characters. Did I miss any of your favorites? Share them in the comments below:
1-2. John Wesley Shipp/Amanda Pays
Previously known for: Barry “The Flash” Allen (Shipp) and Dr. Tina McGee (Pays) on The Flash, which ran for one season on CBS in 1990-91.
More recently: Dr. Henry Allen (Barry’s unjustly imprisoned father) and Jay Garrick, the Flash of Earth-3; Dr. Tina McGee (now head of Mercury Labs instead of working at STAR Labs) on The CW’s The Flash (2014).
Bringing Shipp and Pays into the cast wasn’t the only way the newer series referenced the 1990 TV show. Mark Hamill reprised his role as the Trickster (albeit an incarcerated Trickster who wasn’t first brought to justice by the Flash) and Vito D’Ambrosio, who plays Central City’s Mayor Anthony Bellows in the new series, played a cop with the same name in the original show.
3-4. Dean Cain/Helen Slater
Previously known for: Clark Kent/Superman in 1993’s Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (Cain); Kara Zor-El in 1984’s Supergirl (Slater)
More recently: Kara’s adoptive parents, the Danvers, in 2015’s Supergirl
Slater isn’t the only former Supergirl to appear on the CBS show as someone else. Laura Vandervoot, who played Supergirl in the WB series Smallville, portrayed Indigo, an alien artificial being who tries to wipe out the human race — and only one upbeat heroine stands in her way!
5. Adam West
Previously known for: Bruce Wayne/Batman in 1966’s Batman TV show
More recently: Simon Trent/The Gray Ghost in the 1992 episode of Batman: The Animated Series titled “Beware the Gray Ghost!”
This is one of my favorite examples, as I didn’t even realize it was West the first time I saw this episode. The man’s got range, people. According to legend, the show’s producers considered scrapping this episode because they felt the character of Simon Trent — a down-on-his-luck actor who used to play a superhero on a popular TV show — would be seen as a swipe at West. But West, demonstrating his awesomeness, leapt at the chance to voice the character. He would also go on to voice Mayor Marion Grange in MTV’s The Batman.
The Brave and the Bold was deliberately lighter in tone than previous Batman cartoons, with an emphasis on team-ups between Batman and other lesser-known DC characters. The 2010 episode “Chill of the Night!” not only brought in West and Newmar to voice Bruce Wayne’s parents, it also featured other voice actors from Batman: TAS, with Kevin Conroy as the Phantom Stranger, Mark Hamill as the Spectre and Richard “Two-Face” Moll as gangster Lew Moxon. Believe it or don’t: Tim Burton wanted West and Newmar to appear as Bruce’s parents in his 1989 film as both an homage to the TV show and to show audiences his Batman would be very different from the TV show. Alas, rewrites and scheduling conflicts nixed that plan.
8-9. Kirk Alyn/Noel Neill
Previously known for: Clark Kent/Superman and Lois Lane (from the 1948 Superman serial and its 1950 sequel Atom Man vs. Superman, as well as TV’s Adventures of Superman in the case of Neill)
More recently: A young Lois Lane’s parents in Superman (1978)
So you know that scene near the beginning of Superman where a teenage Clark races a train, and a young Lois Lane tells her parents what she saw and they chuckle about her writer’s gift for invention? Those parents were played by the same actors who played Lois and Clark in the first-ever movie adaptation of Superman’s adventures. Neill’s appearance started an unofficial tradition for actresses who played Lois Lane to later return to play the Lois’s mother; Phyllis Coates (who played Lois for the first season of Adventures of Superman) played Lois’s mother in 1993’s Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, and Lois & Clark’s Teri Hatcher played Ella Lane in the 10th season of Smallville.
Larson (who died in 2015) found he was typecast after Adventures of Superman ended in 1958, and so he focused more on writing and production. He had a sense of humor about his abbreviated acting career, though, saluting the role that made him famous with small cameos in a 1991 episode of Superboy (where he appeared alongside Neill) and a 1996 episode of Lois & Clark, in which he played a much older version of that show’s Jimmy Olsen. In Superman Returns, Larson shares a scene with that film’s Jimmy Olsen, while Neill appears briefly in the film’s beginning as the elderly rich wife of a gold-digging Lex Luthor.
As Reubens explained to The Hollywood Reporter, his portraying the Penguin’s father twice in a lifetime (albeit two very different interpretations of the Batman villain) was a coincidence: “I wasn’t campaigning to play this role, I had no idea about it — my friend Carol Kane was playing the Penguin’s mother, and I asked her if we could have lunch while I was in Manhattan doing The Blacklist, and she said, ‘Oh, I’d love to bring someone along that I’m working with,’ and she brought Robin [Lord Taylor] along to this lunch. The two of them, in the middle of the lunch, said, “You know, they’re talking of bringing in Penguin’s father into the series, and would you consider doing it?’ I said yes immediately.” It also helped that Reubens greatly resembled someone who could convincingly play the father of Taylor’s conniving sociopath — and yes, that’s a compliment.
A former professional bodybuilder, Ferrigno’s formidable physique was an obvious plus when he was cast as the Hulk for the TV series, which spanned five seasons and three TV movies in the 1970s and ’80s. His enduring identification with the character led to him providing the Hulk’s voice in several animated series. As a shout-out to fans of the TV show, Ferrigno also made cameo appearances in the 2003 and 2008 Hulk films, both times as a security guard. Another fun cameo in the 2008 film is Paul Soles as Stanley, the kindly pizza place owner who helps Banner; Soles voiced Dr. Banner in the 1966 Marvel Super Heroes cartoon.
If you liked that bit of trivia about Soles, then here’s another one for you: the truck driver who drops Rogue at the bar in Alberta where she meets Wolverine is none other than the actor who provided the voice of Beast for the X-Men animated series. Taking the opposite route of Joe Shuster, Buza was born in Cleveland and moved to Toronto as a young man, where he has enjoyed a long acting career, both as a voice actor in a long list of cartoons and as a regular actor in Canadian productions. His most recent role is a badass Santa in the horror anthology A Christmas Horror Story, which sound way more fun than shlepping young mutants along snowy highways.
Believe it or not, Marvel’s big-budget 2015 film wasn’t Ant-Man’s first live-action appearance. That would be “Superhero Party,” an SNL skit that aired March 17, 1979, and featured guest star Margot Kidder with Bill Murray as Superman, Jane Curtin as Lana Lang, John Belushi as the Hulk… and Morris as Ant-Man. No surprise, Ant-Man’s powers were played for laughs in the sketch. As director Peyton Reed told Ain’t-It-Cool News, Morris’s appearance in the 2015 film was no coincidence: “I wanted to do three things with Ant-Man: get Garrett Morris in the movie, have a Stan Lee cameo that tops all of the other cameos — and I think we succeeded — and have an Adam Ant song on the soundtrack. I got all three of those things.”
An Olympic-medal swimmer, Crabbe went on to star in more than 100 movies in the 1930s and ’40s, including high-profile roles as Tarzan, Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. In honor of his two most famous sci-fi roles, Crabbe made a cameo appearance as “Brigadier Gordon” in “Planet of the Slave Girls,” the second episode of the 1979 Buck Rogers TV show. When Rogers (played by Gil Gerard) praises his flying, Gordon replies: “I’ve been doing that sort of thing since before you were born.” It’s doubly funny because the Buck Rogers character was born over 500 years before the start of the show (and therefore much older than the grizzled pilot next to him), while in real life Crabbe had indeed been playing Buck Rogers since before Gerard was born.
No debate, no discussion: Reeve set the standard that all other actors playing Superman have been measured by ever since. In 1995, long after he retired from the role, Reeve suffered a horseback riding injury that paralyzed him from the neck down; after intensive physical therapy, he returned to directing and became a passionate advocate for paralysis and stem-cell research. In 2003, he appeared in the Season 2 episode “Rosetta” as Dr. Swann, a man who wants to help Clark Kent understand where he comes from. The episode ends with Reeve and Tom Welling inviting viewers to support the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation.
18+. Pretty much everyone else who made a guest appearance on Smallville
“There is something about the character of Superman that brings out a natural sense of nostalgia,” writes Russ Dimino at The KryptonSite. “He has been around since the late 1930s, so we all grew up with him… Perhaps that is why each new story of Superman’s adventures seems to include a wink and a nod to all those that have come before.” And that goes double for Smallville, which had 10 seasons’ worth of opportunities to bring back actors familiar to Superman fans. Aside from the already mentioned Christopher Reeve, we saw, in no particular order:
- Annette O’Toole (Lana Lang from Superman III) play Martha Kent, in a feat of casting that was supposedly a fluke as the crew didn’t know about her earlier role until she pointed it out
- Margot Kidder (Lois Lane in the original Superman films) as Dr. Bridgette Crosby, Dr. Swann’s assistant and would-be love interest
- Terence Stamp (Zod in Superman II) provide the voice for Jor-El, Superman’s biological father
- Helen Slater (1984’s Supergirl) as Lara, Superman’s biological mother
- Dean Cain (Clark of Lois & Clark) as the seemingly immortal Dr. Curtis Knox (his initials an obvious shout-out to his previous role)
- Teri Hatcher (Lois of Lois & Clark) as Ella Lane, Lois Lane’s mother, who appears in a recording for Lois to see (her mother having died in the events that started the show’s story)
- Marc McClure (Jimmy Olsen in the Superman films) as Dax-Ur, a Kryptonian living a normal life on Earth without super powers
- Michael Ironside (the voice of Darkseid from Superman: TAS) as General Sam Lane
And then there’s Lynda Carter, best known as TV’s Wonder Woman, who showed up as Chloe’s mother, Moira Sullivan, in one episode. While her show wasn’t technically part of the Superman franchise, let’s count this one and hope that someone has the good sense to find Ms. Carter a well-deserved spot in the upcoming Wonder Woman movie.