23 More Actors Who Have Played Characters in Films Based on Both Marvel and DC Properties
(Standard disclaimer: The night is dark and full of spoilers, etc.)
1. Michael Keaton
For Marvel: Adrian Toomes/Vulture (2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming)
For DC: Bruce Wayne/Batman (1989’s Batman, 1992’s Batman Returns)
Better role: So a little while ago I had fun making a list of actors who had roles in both Marvel and DC films. Hey, let’s do that again! Starting with Michael John “Michael Keaton” Douglas of Mr. Mom and Pacific Heights fame — oh, and a pair of movies that just happened to deliver the best damn cinematic Batman ever caught on film YOU KNOW IN YOUR HEARTS IT’S TRUE, PEOPLE. Yes, things got a bit silly at times with the weaponized penguins and such, but there’s no denying Keaton’s barely restrained performance gave his Bruce Wayne an intensity that absolutely no one expected from the hero of a comic-book movie in 1989. Twenty-eight years later, Keaton brought that same intensity to the opposite side of the morality ledger, turning a classic Spider-Man foe like the Vulture into a working-class super-villain you almost want to root for. Not too shabby, considering he brings a literal building down on our hapless hero and turns out to be the world’s creepiest girlfriend’s dad.
2. Michelle Pfeiffer
For Marvel: Janet van Dyne (2018’s Ant-Man and the Wasp)
For DC: Selina Kyle/Catwoman (1992’s Batman Returns)
Better role: Keaton’s co-star in Batman Returns was Michelle Pfeiffer, an actress who sent many hearts fluttering in the late ’80s with sultry performances in films like Dangerous Liaisons and The Fabulous Baker Boys. Given her A-list status in Hollywood at the time, absolutely no one was surprised when Warner Bros. announced she was going to play Catwoman in the highly anticipated sequel, and when fans finally got a look at her on the big screen… hoo boy. Let’s just say “iconic” and “career-defining” doesn’t even begin to describe her performance as Christopher Walken’s put-upon assistant. By comparison, Pfeiffer’s role in Ant-Man and the Wasp was little more than a glorified cameo — it was a fun film, sure, but as the object of husband’s and daughter’s quest who doesn’t even show up until well into the third act, Pfeiffer didn’t have much to do in the film except wait to be found. In other words, not giving the point to DC here would be a CATastrophic decision.
3. Willem DaFoe
For Marvel: Norman Osborn/Green Goblin (2002’s Spider-Man)
For DC: Vulko (2018’s Aquaman)
Better role: Under his IMDb biography, the “Trademarks” section notes DaFoe is known for playing “psychotically unstable characters.” Yep, that checks out. Before he strapped his feet into the Goblin Glider, DaFoe carved out an impressive acting career playing intense, off-balanced, and intensely off-balanced characters (and also that one time he played Jesus Christ). Naturally, all that training came in handy for his portrayal of Norman Osborn, a role that allowed him to careen from intense quiet to bug-nuts insane, sometimes within the same scene. On the other hand, DaFoe’s Vulko in Aquaman was… fine. Not that DaFoe didn’t bring his usual A-game, but there wasn’t much for him to do with the character beyond offer some fighting tips to a younger Arthur Curry and deliver that sweet burn to Ocean Master at the end. Although I will say if he had called the younger Arthur “shark bait” during any of those training scenes, I might have to reconsider my vote. #FindingNemoRefFTW
4. Tom Hardy
For Marvel: Eddie Brock (2018’s Venom)
For DC: Bane (2012’s The Dark Knight Rises)
Better role: How? How is it possible that these two roles were played by the same guy? I mean…. damn, Tom. Serious respect over here. Hardy gained 30 lbs. of muscle to play Bane in the third chapter of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, instantly creating an iconic character who easily ranks among the top villains in modern American cinema. Later, when Sony announced he was taking the lead in a Venom film that wouldn’t feature or mention Spider-Man in any way, film critics started dusting off their “Worst movie ever!” zingers for the inevitably bad reviews, but in the end… okay, it wasn’t the greatest film, but it was better than anyone had any right to expect. Plus it made a lot of money, which is all that matters in some circles. And anyone who thought Hardy was going to phone it in clearly hasn’t been paying attention to his career, because the guy was committed to every twitch and tic he put into his performance. I mean, I’m pretty sure Hardy didn’t actually sit in a tank full of live lobsters and start chomping on one of them while gibbering like a maniac… but it wouldn’t surprise me if he insisted on doing it to stay in character.
5. Dolph Lundgren
For Marvel: Frank Castle/The Punisher (1989’s The Punisher)
For DC: King Nereus (2018’s Aquaman)
Better role: Long before Tom Jane, Ray Stevenson, or Jon Bernthal pulled on the skull shirt, there was Dolph Lundgren of Rocky IV and Masters of the Universe fame giving us his take on the Marvel character most likely to hum “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” in the shower. Filmed in Australia, The Punisher received a worldwide release except in Sweden, South Africa and the United States, the latter because of New World’s financial difficulties at the time. Direct-to-video copies on VHS and DVD helped make it a cult classic among American film fans, despite bad reviews that noted the film’s departures from the source material. After cementing his action-star status with films like Universal Soldier, The Expendables, and more direct-to-video films than it’s probably polite to mention, Lundgren returned to comic-book films as Aquaman’s Nereus, a king who allies himself with Orm and Atlantis to wage war with the surface world. It’s the kind of role I like to refer to as a “boathouse gig,” in that I’m sure he enjoyed the boathouse or bathroom renovation of whatever he bought with the money he was paid to show up on set for a few days. My guess: he probably thinks it’s cool being part of a box-office smash like Aquaman… but I bet he had a lot more fun pretending to shoot up bad guys on the mean streets of Sydney.
6. J.K. Simmons
For Marvel: J. Jonah Jameson (Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy)
For DC: Commissioner Gordon (2017’s Justice League)
Better role: Oh, come on! As if this is even a contest. Simmons’ portrayal of Peter Parker’s was so instantly iconic that not only did he reprise the role in later video games and a handful of animated series starring Spider-Man and the Avengers, Columbia Pictures didn’t even bother trying to cast someone else to play Jameson when it rebooted the franchise in 2012. Instead, The Amazing Spider-Man had Jameson’s presence limited to e-mail messages haranguing our favorite freelance photographer (one of many script decisions I think someone should have reconsidered). As if that weren’t enough, to this day I can’t read Jameson’s dialogue in a comic without hearing it in Simmons’ voice. Perhaps it was Simmons’ ability to perfectly embody a gruff, older-mentor type that inspired Warner Bros. to cast him as Commissioner Gordon in their ill-fated Justice League film (and, in 2021, the latest Batman film titled simply The Batman). It was one of the better casting decisions the producers made, but considering Gordon didn’t have much more to do in Justice League than turn on the Bat-signal… like I said, no contest.
7. Zachary Levi
For Marvel: Fandral (2013’s Thor: The Dark World, 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok)
For DC: Shazam (2019’s Shazam!)
Better role: Here’s how observant I am; I had no idea Levi was even in the latter two Thor films until I started doing research for this list. Honest! When Josh Dallas — who played Fandral in the first Thor film — couldn’t return for the sequel because of a scheduling conflict, the star of TV’s Chuck stepped in to take his place. And in my defence, the guy is damn near unrecognizable beneath the goatee and blond hair. There’s no mistaking his face or his ineffable charm in the trailers for Shazam!, a film based on the original Captain Marvel. As of this writing, I haven’t seen the film yet, but early reviews suggest it’s a fun flick that heavily leans on the joyous feeling of wish fulfilment that has always been an integral part of the character. So my gut says it doesn’t take the wisdom of Solomon to see which is the better role here.
8. Jim Carrey
For Marvel: Colonel Stars and Stripes (2013’s Kick-Ass 2)
For DC: Edward Nygma/The Riddler (1995’s Batman Forever)
Better role: You kids, man. You have no idea what it was like back then. Back in the ’90s, Jim Carrey was a force of nature, maniacally careening from one high-profile film role to the next with no one safe from his crazy antics. In between yelling “S-S-S-S-S-SMOKIN’!” for The Mask and pulling down a record-setting $20-million payday to torture Matthew Broderick in The Cable Guy, Carrey was tapped to play the Riddler in Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever. His performance had its… interesting moments (“JOYGASM!”), but there’s no denying he captured the chaotic campiness that Schumacher was aiming for with his first Batman film (and amped up to 11 in his second). Almost 20 years later, Carrey switched sides to play Colonel Stars and Stripes, the leader of the Justice Forever team inspired by Kick-Ass’s crime-fighting career. Carrey later had regrets about taking the role; following the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting, he withdrew his support for the ultra-violent film by writing: “I did Kick-Ass a month before Sandy Hook and now in all good conscience I cannot support that level of violence. My apologies to others involved with the film. I am not ashamed of it but recent events have caused a change in my heart.”
9. Ben Mendelsohn
For Marvel: Talos (2019’s Captain Marvel)
For DC: John Daggett (2012’s The Dark Knight Rises)
Better role: Although he’s been acting in his native Australia since he was a teenager, Mendelsohn is chiefly known stateside for his villainous roles in such films as Star Wars: Rogue One, Ready Player One and 2018’s Robin Hood. Add to that illustrious list his turn as John Daggett in The Dark Knight Rises, a ruthless businessman who bankrolls Bane’s terrorist band as part of his own eeeeee-vil plans until he realizes too late what he’s unleashed. More recently, he’s almost unrecognizable as Talos, the leader of a band of Skrull refugees that Captain Marvel ends up saving in her first Marvel film. Do you think the producers cast Mendelsohn thinking it would help fool moviegoers into thinking the Skrulls were the bad guys in the film? Anything’s possible, and it’s certainly telling that Mendelsohn was coy about the Skrulls’ true intentions in interviews prior to the film’s release. (On his action scenes: “Oh, it’s intense. You know, a lot of punching, a lot of kicking, lots of Skrullin’.”) I think as long as they keep the soda coming Mendelsohn is leaning towards Talos as the better of these two roles, and if that’s the case then who am I to disagree?
10. Benjamin Bratt
For Marvel: Jonathan Pangborn (2016’s Doctor Strange)
For DC: Tom Lone (2004’s Catwoman)
Better role: Let me tell you something right now. Even if Bratt’s cop/Halle Berry love interest character in Catwoman got cat powers himself, even if he ended the film delivering the final knockdown to Sharon Stone and starred in a sequel with Berry titled Catwoman 2: The Cat-Man Cometh… I would still consider his five minutes of screen time in Doctor Strange the better role. Why? Watch Catwoman and you’ll know why. To paraphrase almost every film critic forced to watch it: “Meee-OUCH!”
11. Mark Strong
For Marvel: Frank D’Amico (2010’s Kick-Ass)
For DC: Sinestro (2011’s Green Lantern); Dr. Sivana (2019’s Shazam!)
Better role: There were a lot of problems with 2011’s Green Lantern film, but the casting director’s picks wasn’t one of them. A pre-Deadpool Ryan Reynolds was the perfect choice for cocky test pilot Hal Jordan, Peter Sarsgaard brought the right mix of skeevy and menacing to his villainous role, Blake Lively did fine with the little she was given to work with… but Strong — who’s often cast as cold and calculating villains — simply nailed his depiction of Sinestro. I don’t think I was ever more disappointed in the promise of a sequel that will never be than that final image of Sinestro putting on a yellow power ring. Ah well. “Cold and calculating” is also a fine way to describe his sadistic mob boss in the first Kick-Ass movie, and while he got off a few good lines (“I gotta send a public service message to the people out there that being a superhero is bad for your health”)… I dunno, my sense of youthful wonder has got to give it to Sinestro. No hard feelings, huh, Frank?
12. Parker Posey
For Marvel: Danica Talos in (2004’s Blade: Trinity)
For DC: Kitty Kowalski (2006’s Superman Returns)
Better role: Have you checked out that Lost in Space reboot on Netflix? You should. It’s good, and not just because of Parker Posey’s positively peerless performance. She was dubbed “Queen of the Indies” in the 1990s for her string of appearances in independent films, but she’s also spiced things up with roles in bigger-budget flicks like Scream 3, You’ve Got Mail, Josie and the Pussycats… and a pair of superhero flicks that definitely showcase her range. In Blade: Trinity, she plays an ambitious vampire leader who takes on our hero, while Superman Returns saw her try on something a little more screwball as Lex Luthor’s ditzy moll. Tough choice considering both films scored about the same on the meh-o-meter, but I’ve got to give it up for Blade: Trinity, if only because it gave Parker so many chances to kick the crap out of Ryan Reynolds. And who wouldn’t love that? (Just kidding, Ry! You’re definitely one of my top two favorite Canadian movie stars named Ryan!)
13. Joe Manganiello
For Marvel: Flash Thompson (in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy)
For DC: Slade Wilson/Deathstroke (2017’s Justice League)
Better role: I don’t know the guy apart from his more memorable moments in True Blood, Magic Mike and other productions proffering his pectoral perfection to the people, but he seems like a pretty decent guy in real life: writes books, works with children’s charities, longtime Dungeons & Dragons player, you name it. So it’s kind of funny to see him in a pair of roles in which he plays two of the biggest buttheads in their respective comic universes, one a dim-witted high school bully and the other a vicious mercenary who can’t settle on a working name…. Slade, Deathstroke, Terminator, just pick a name man! (Though I guess it helps that “Terminator” isn’t up for grabs anymore.) It’s probably not fair to compare these two roles since we’ve only had about 30 seconds of screen time for Deathstroke so far (and one line of dialogue at that), and I might change my mind on this one depending on how that upcoming Batman film turns out… but for now I think Flash Thompson’s hallway fight with a newly empowered Peter Parker is the better — holy cow, Manganiello was 26 years old when they filmed that? Wow. Okay, now I’m even more impressed.
14. Neal McDonough
For Marvel: Dum Dum Dugan (2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger)
For DC: Damien Darhk (TV’s Arrow, Flash, Legends of Tomorrow)
Better role: I feel like McDonough is the kind of guy who would be really fun to have a beer with. I don’t even know if he’s a beer guy — I’m up for a martini or a pinot noir if that’s more his style. The point is this is a guy who has been involved in some pretty interesting projects over the years — Star Trek: First Contact, Desperate Housewives, Minority Report, Justified, Suits, Flags of our Fathers, along with Captain America and the Arrowverse shows — and I bet he has some great stories to tell about working on each one of them. And talk about versatile; never mind that he’s played both Steve Rogers’ soldier buddy and one of Green Arrow’s most villainous nemeses, he’s also done voice acting for animated versions of Deadshot, Green Arrow, Bruce Banner and the Flash. Anyway. Tough choice, but I think I have to give Damien Darhk the nod — mostly because McDonough’s clearly having such a good time being so bad.
15. Randall Park
For Marvel: S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Jimmy Woo (2018’s Ant-Man and the Wasp)
For DC: Dr. Stephen Shin (2018’s Aquaman)
Better role: 2018 was a good year for this Los Angeles-born actor, who added two high-profile superhero films to an already impressive resume (VEEP, The Interview, Fresh Off the Boat). In Ant-Man and the Wasp, he plays Jimmy Woo, the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who first appeared in the comics back in 1956; in Aquaman, he’s Dr. Shin, a scientist eager to prove to the surface world that Atlantis exists. We don’t get to see him do much in the movie — a few TV interviews, then a mid-credits scene where he appears to team up with a recently rescued Black Manta — but if there’s a sequel, you can bet we’ll see more of his scientific shenanigans. By contrast, Agent Woo gives Park a chance to show off his low-key comedic chops, and he does fine with the role. Still, if I were a betting man, I would wager Dr. Shin will figure more prominently in Park’s immediate future.
16. Karl Urban
For Marvel: Skurge (2017’s Thor: Ragnarok)
For DC: CIA Agent William Cooper (2010’s RED)
Better role: Urban’s most famous comic-book role so far has been his turn as Mega-City One’s top law enforcement officer in 2012’s Dredd… but since his books aren’t published by Marvel or DC, let’s look at these two roles. Here’s what he said about reporting to the set for Thor: Ragnarok: “Some days you’re sitting on set and there’s Anthony Hopkins on your left, Sam Neill on your right and then Idris Elba over there. It was just a constant revolving door of some of the best people in the business.” Here’s what he said (albeit with a chuckle) about doing fight scenes with Bruce Willis on the set of RED: “I had to do six weeks of physical therapy… It turned out that some of the vertebrae in my neck were crushed. I had a swollen shoulder tendon (and) some deep tissue issues behind my (shoulder blade). That was all a result of the fight. I think Bruce came out all right, so I’m certainly forwarding the bills to Bruce.” I think I know which part he would sign up for again.
17. Morena Baccarin
For Marvel: Vanessa Carlysle (2016’s Deadpool, 2018’s Deadpool 2)
For DC: Dr. Leslie Thompkins (TV’s Gotham)
Better role: Hailing from sunny Rio de Janeiro, Baccarin has amassed quite an impressive amount of “geek cred” on her IMDb page, from Firefly and Stargate SG-1 to that V revival from a few years back. And that’s on top of her voice roles in Justice League Unlimited, Batman: The Brave and the Bold, and Son of Batman. What can I say, we nerds love her and she clearly loves us. I feel like this is a tough call to make; I loved both Deadpool movies and thought she rocked the part, but I bailed out of Gotham around the start of the second season so it’s hard for me to say much about her character. Gotham wiki to the rescue! Hmm, let’s take a look…. “injected herself with the Alice Tetch virus”… “teams up with Edward Nygma and Solomon Grundy”… “tortured and thrown out on the street by Sofia Falcone”…”shot Sofia in the head as a revenge”…”began a romantic relationship with Ed Nygma and the two committed crimes together”…. Um, the hell?
18. Lashana Lynch
For Marvel: Maria Rambeau (2019’s Captain Marvel)
For DC: Agent 355 (TV’s Y)
Better role: Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra’s series about the literal last man on Earth has been bandied about as a potential film project since it came out, but in 2015 the cable channel FX announced it was adapting Vertigo’s Y: The Last Man for a series with Vaughan as one of the writers. When the cast was announced in 2018, it confirmed the part of tough-as-nails Agent 355 would be played by Lynch, a British actress whose biggest role to date has been Monica Rambeau — Air Force pilot, single mother and close friend of Carol Danvers in this year’s Captain Marvel. I have no idea how closely Y will follow the book’s storyline, so it’s hard to say what the TV series will have in store for Agent 355, or even how much of a role she will play in events as they unfold. Still, it feels like it has the potential to be a great breakout role for Lynch, similar to Danai Gurira’s Michonne on AMC’s The Walking Dead. But since we don’t have much material to work with here, the point goes to Marvel… for now.
Point: Marvel (for now)
19. Ciarán Hinds
For Marvel: Roarke/The Devil (2011’s Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance)
For DC: Steppenwolf (2017’s Justice League)
Better role: A respected actor of the Irish, British and American stage, the Belfast-born Hinds isn’t so high-falutin’ as to turn down a chance to be a part of a big-budget franchise. And that’s a good thing, because it means more dramatic goodness in our Game of Thrones episodes, Harry Potter films, and Disney animated musicals with rock-kings and dancing snowmen. Playing on the whole “the devil can take many forms” deal, Hinds stepped in to replace Peter Fonda’s devilish character in the sequel to the first Ghost Rider; a few years later, he donned a motion-capture suit and lent his booming voice to a CGI’ed Steppenwolf, the Big Bad that the heroes teamed up to defeat in the underwhelming Justice League. Spirit of Vengeance bombed with critics and audiences alike, but it wasn’t for lack of trying on Hinds’ part — there’s a crazy charm in his performance, as if he knows a diet heavy on the scenery is the only way to play a child-snatching Prince of Darkness. In contrast, the material he was given to work with in Justice League was…. uch. Hinds himself apparently thought so, telling a reporter shortly after the film’s release that he hoped Zack Snyder’s original cut comes out someday “because it was better than the movie in the theatres.”
20. Zazie Beetz
For Marvel: Domino (2018’s Deadpool 2)
For DC: Sophie Dumond (2019’s Joker)
Better role: As I’m writing this, Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker is several months away from hitting the local multiplex, and everyone involved in the project is tight-lipped about what we’ll see when it arrives. One of the things we do know is that Beetz plays Sophie Dumond, a single mother who catches the eye of Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck. She’s also described as “worn out by the grind of the city” and is “just trying to catch a break” while living in Gotham’s Lower East Side. Potential love interest in a Joker movie who’s just trying to get by in the big bad city? Sounds like a recipe for a long and healthy life free of any refrigerator-related trauma. What it doesn’t sound like is the kind of role that gives Beetz a chance to do cool things like fight cyborgs from the future, or fall on top of a giant inflatable panda. Maybe that Joker movie will be good, maybe not; either way, I’m pretty sure I’m Team Domino for this one.
21. Dave Bautista
For Marvel: Drax (2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy, 2017’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2)
For DC: Aldar, a Phantom Zone escapee (TV’s Smallville)
Better role: HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HAoh that’s funny. To be fair, I’m sure Bautista’s guest-star gig on a Smallville episode as a cannibalistic bad guy looked great on Bautista’s audition reel when someone went casting for Guardians of the Galaxy, so maybe there’s some credit where it’s due. Even so… yeah, not even close.
22. Serinda Swan
For Marvel: Medusa (TV’s The Inhumans)
For DC: Zatanna (TV’s Smallville)
Better role: Vancouver-born Serinda Swan landed her first acting role at the age of three, when she starred opposite Ted Danson and Isabella Rossellini in the 1989 film Cousins. Since then, she’s found steady work in both Canadian and American productions (you can currently catch her starring in the Canadian TV series Coroner), and with Smallville filming in her backyard it was only a matter of time before she landed a guest-starring gig. I hope someone sent the show’s casting director something nice for putting Swan in Zatanna’s classic magician’s outfit, because (1) I have no problem believing she’s magic and (2) fishnet stockings, ’nuff said. On paper, her role as Medusa in the eight-episode Inhumans series sounds like the better deal: second billing in the credits, on-location shooting in Hawaii, a production that’s firmly set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But the critics, they were harsh — “It’s not even an interesting train wreck. It’s just a boring, lifeless slog easily shooting to the top of the list of the worst things the MCU has produced in its near-decade of existence.” — and the fans even less forgiving. And who can blame them: Swan’s character had super-hair as her sole power, and they shaved her head in the very first episode. It was like starting the first episode of a new TV show about the Hulk with Dr. Banner successfully graduating from his anger management class. To wit: the hell?
23. Paul Giamatti
For Marvel: Aleksei “Rhino” Sytsevich (2014’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2)
For DC: Harvey Pekar (2003’s American Splendor)
Better role: I feel like I’m cheating a bit on this one because American Splendor didn’t start life as a book published by DC. First published in 1976, Harvey Pekar’s autobiographical comic was self-published until 1993, and since then it’s been published by Tundra, Dark Horse and DC’s Vertigo imprint. Ah well. My list, my rules. Despite being one of the bigger names in indie comics (not to mention his regular appearances on Late Night with David Letterman), Pekar wasn’t that well-known outside the comics community until 2003, when the film American Splendor — based on his comic and filmed entirely in his Cleveland hometown — won the Grand Jury Prize for Dramatic Film at the Sundance Festival, the award for Best Adapted Screenplay from the Writers Guild of America, and an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay (where it lost to The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King). Fast forward 11 years to see Giamatti in a mecha rhino suit screaming the classic line “I crush you! I kill you! I destroy you!” at your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man. While I’m sure he had fun hamming it up, I can’t go against the Writers Guild folks on this one. Trust me, nobody crosses the Writers Guild.