<p>There's certainly been a lot of comic book movie casting news of late. As the comic book movie realm continues to expand, so do the marquee actors who join the ranks of comic book characters on the big screen. The most recent have quite a lot to live up to: Ben Affleck, cast as Batman, follows the most critically acclaimed live-action portrayal of the Dark Knight yet, not to mention he joins Henry Cavill's Superman on screen. <p>Likewise, James Spader steps into the role of Ultron, playing the villain in <b>Avengers: Age of Ultron</b>. He at once joins the ensemble of the most successful comic book movie of all time, and has to step into the role of villain - one that fan-favorite Tom Hiddleston has left big shoes for. <p>With that in mind, Newsarama thought we'd take a moment to examine the standard-bearers of comic book adaptation acting. Scouring through comic book movies from the last several decades, we polled our staff and picked out 10 performances that are downright heroic. There are a few latecomers, a few from one franchise, and definitely a few that you (and we) may not think of at first. These are the ten best performances by an actor or actress in a comic book movie.
<b>Why It's a Great Performance:</b> The lifetime achievement award for comic book movie appearances goes to Chris Evans with roles in two <i>Fantastic Four</i> movies, <i>Scott Pilgrim</i>, <i>The Losers</i>, <i>Captain America: The First Avenger</i>, <i>The Avengers</i>, voicing Casey Jones in <i>TMNT</i>, and the super-powered (and later turned into a comic) <i>Push</i>. <p>Singling out one of his many quality comic book performances is an interesting proposition, with his most recent performances as Captain America are definitely standouts amongst his many roles. But we give him the nod, and the spot on this list not for the joint achievements or his highest profile one. No, we give it up for Jensen, the brainy and zany member of the special ops squad that makes the A-Team look like a Cub Scouts troop. He came right off the pages of Andy Diggle and Jock's comic, and still made the role his own, with a sarcastic wit coupled with a unique optimism that we haven't seen from Evans in anything else. <p><b>Signature Moment:</b> Jensen puts both hands up, making gun shapes out of his fingers, and tells the bad guys of experiments and mind powers. As he aims at one and yells gun noises, Cougar uses a high-powered and long-ranged sniper rifle to take down the thugs he points at. It's the perfect mix of lethal and laughs that makes Jensen, and Evans, so great.
<b>Why It's a Great Performance:</b> A lot of folks questioned Anne Hathaway who previously starred in films including <i>The Princess Diaries</i> and <i>Ella Enchanted</i> as Catwoman, given the tamer roles she's generally been known for in her career. Of course, a lot of people wondered why the dude from <i>10 Things I Hate About You</i> was cast as the Joker, and we know how that turned out, right? <p>Hathaway was something of a revelation as Selina Kyle, nimbly walking the line between hero and villain, but charismatic and appealing enough that you rooted for her either way which is kind of what the character of Catwoman is all about (even if the movie doesn't actually call her "Catwoman" at any point). There's been some clamor among audiences for a Catwoman solo film spinning off of <i>The Dark Knight Rises</i>, pretty much ensuring that Hathaway has effectively made everyone forget about the 2004 Halle Berry film (probably shouldn't have even brought it up; sorry about that). <p><b>Signature Moment:</b> As it's a current release, we don't want to go too far with the <i>Dark Knight Rises</i> spoilers, but her skillful (dare we say "cat-like?") grifting of Bruce Wayne early in the film establishes that she's worth taking seriously (and paying serious attention to). Her briefly mixing it up among her fellow (male) prisoners also clearly defines her as the antithesis of a damsel in distress.
<b>Why It's a Great Performance:</b> As Peter Parker, Andrew Garfield is the gangly, awkward, brainy teenager. He reacts to situations both good and bad the way a teenager actually would. As Spider-Man, when that mask comes down, he's laughing and joking up a storm, he's otherworldly confident and unbelievably determined. He is Peter Parker and he is Spider-Man, in a way that only the comics have ever been able to show before. <p>Having perfect chemistry with the lovely Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy, herself a standout performance that nearly made this list, certainly doesn't hurt Garfield's standing, either. <p><b>Signature Moment:</b> As Peter, shortly after being bit by the radioactive spider, Garfield shifted his entire way of moving through the house and interacting with Aunt May and Uncle Ben. He slinked slowly but deftly close to the walls, plucked a fly out of the air, and showed intense reflexes while clearly taking in his surroundings in a brand new way. As Spidey? Come on, saving that kid and giving him his mask was just a "hell yeah" kind of moment.
<b>Why It's a Great Performance:</b> On the page, Mindy Macready, aka Hit-Girl is a prime example of pop-culture ridiculousness. An unbelievably foul mouthed, blood soaked, murder-crazy preteen vigilante? At best it's blatant boundary pushing just for the sake it or it just belongs the same category as Photoshops of really long cats and horsemaning. Nobody would buy it in realty, or even in a live-action film. <p>But all of that is discounting the performance of the then 13-year-old Chloe Grace Moretz in the film adaptation of Mark Millar's comic <I>Kick-Ass</I>. <p>Moretz manages to not only steal the movie from her on-screen father, Academy Award winner Nicolas Cage (in full manic mode), but from Aaron Johnson's title character by bringing Hit-Girl to life exactly as she appeared on the page. Moretz's Hit-Girl shot people in the head, stabbed them through the heart, fearlessly cursed out friend an foe alike and did so with such professionalism and genuine authority that she won over not only jaded comic fans and unknowing film critics but even those who would find such a character morally objectionable (even in fiction) were won over. With her talent proven in a role that would challenge someone four times her age, Moretz went from <I>Kick-Ass</I>, to roles in the multiple Academy Award-winning dramatic film <I>Hugo</I>, and a reoccurring part on TV where she holds her own against no other than Alec Baldwin on <I>30 Rock</I>. <p><b>Signature Moment:</b> At the climax of the film, Hit-Girl is cornered by over a half dozen mooks armed with a variety of weapons and even though it's never in any doubt how it's going to turn out, watching the four foot hero blaze though the terrified mobsters in a brava action sequence is stand-up and-cheer awesome.
<b>Why It's a Great Performance:</b> When he was cast in as the all-important villain in <i>Thor</i>, Tom Hiddleston was a relatively unknown actor. But instead of being overshadowed by the film's cast filled with Oscar-winners like Anthony Hopkins and Natalie Portman, he stole almost every scene in which he appeared. He was such an understandable tragic figure, in fact, that there were a few moments where we kind of wanted poor Loki to win. <p>The key to his success? His portrayal made the god-like Loki seem real, and even human. And while he may have pulled upon his Shakespeare experience when he played the mythological family tragedy of <i>Thor</i>, Hiddleston seamlessly transitioned into the wit and humor of his scenes in <i>The Avengers</i>. <p><b>Signature Moment:</b> <i>Thor</i> and <i>The Avengers</i> both showcased Hiddleston's embodiment of Loki more than once particularly when the villain was in captivity within the SHIELD helicarrier, successfully stirring up mischief with everyone from Black Widow to Hulk. <p>But we thought the greatest demonstration of his acting abilities was toward the end of <i>The Avengers</i>, when Loki was confronted by his brother atop Stark tower. He actually had us convinced that he was being sincere, but instead stabbed Thor in the side. "Sentiment," he said with a tear in his eye.
<b>Why It's a Great Performance:</b> Sometimes, a great performance in a comic book movie is all about subverting expectations. Adding layers that an audience never previously recognized in the source material; highlighting a central truth to the character that was previously hidden. <p>J.K. Simmons, as J. Jonah Jameson in all three of Sam Raimi's <i>Spider-Man</i> films, did not do that. Instead, he personified the four-color version of Peter Parker's boss in eerie fashion, literally bringing the beloved decades-old supporting character to life. <p>The role was so well-received that Simmons extended the role to a vocal performance in the current <i>Ultimate Spider-Man</i> animated series (and a cameo on <i>The Simpsons</i>. Many fans suspecting the character didn't appear in this past summer's <i>Amazing Spider-Man</i> largely because Simmons' would have been impossible to recast. <p><b>Signature Moment:</b> Pretty much any scene he's in has a consistent quality (when the trilogy often did not), so let's just go with his original one in 2002's <i>Spider-Man</i>, as that had the benefit of having the initial wow factor to it. But quit reading this, and bring us pictures. Pictures of Spider-Man!
<b>Why It's a Great Performance:</b> Wolverine had been in a lot of comic books by 2000 (and many more now), so fans knew a good deal about the character by the time the first <i>X-Men</i> film came out: For one, he's short. For two, he's Canadian. <p>So... how about casting a 6'2" Australian in the role? <p>Instead of revolting, often-persnickety comic book fans have wholeheartedly embraced Jackman in the role for five (six if you count a particularly memorable cameo) films, with another on the way as Jackman reprises the role as the central character in the <i>X-Men: Days of Future Past</i> film. <p>Jackman has become Wolverine, nailing both the ferocity, nobility and oft-hidden (but nonetheless genuine) soft side that has defined the character, embodying the qualities that's made him overwhelmingly popular for decades. <p>It also helps that Jackman himself seems to love being Wolverine, and that it's profoundly different than most other roles played by the actor, who has a background in musical theater something that <i>Saturday Night Live</i> has even picked up on in a recurring bit. And while most actors are in peril of getting too old to play an iconic superhero, it's likely that Jackman as quite a few turns as Wolverine left in him if he so chooses after all, the comic book version of the character was born in the late 1800s. <p><b>Signature Moment:</b> His rampage in <i>X2</i> is Jackman's best action scene, but we'll go with Wolverine telling Cyclops in the original <i>X-Men</i> what he's likely longed to say for years in the comics, but couldn't due to content regulations: "You're a dick."
<b>Why It's a Great Performance:</b> There are two kinds of actors in Hollywood: movie stars and character actors. In rare instances, movie stars can submerge themselves in a character, but more often the lines are clear. <p>The Batman trilogy's Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman gave wonderfully appealing performances, for instance, imbuing the three films with substantial gravitas. But both played basically extensions of their own familiar and iconic personas. We loved Alfred and Lucius Fox because they were everything we like about Caine and Freeman. <p>Gary Oldman, on the other hand is a true character actor and one of if not <i>the</i> best in the business, perhaps the closest thing Hollywood has to a Meryl Streep with a Y chromosome. Oldman recreates unique, distinct beings in every role his plays, including some iconic, over-the-top genre villains early in his Hollywood career. And while Jim Gordon is one of his less showy roles, it's the quiet dignity he manages to embody in Batman's one true friend that makes it such a fine, subtle performance and the glue to the film series. <p><b>Signature Moment:</b> The entire performance from <i>Batman Begins</i> to <i>The Dark Knight Rises</i> rings true from start to finish, but Gordon assisting Batman in the Tumbler and him returning from presumed death and emerging from the truck to help subdue the Joker stand out as fun moments were he got to flex his acting muscles a bit in action scenes.
<b>Why It's a Great Performance:</b> And while Gary Oldman is a true character actor, Robert Downey Jr.'s performance as Tony Stark in the <i>Iron Man</i> films and <i>The Avengers</i> is the very definition of the Hollywood movie star turn. <p>RDJ isn't so much as an embodiment of the classic comic book Tony Stark as the actor instantly bringing to life the Tony Stark that Marvel readers suddenly realized they wished the comic book version always was. <p>His kinetic, hyper-witted, self-effacing-yet-ultra-cocky Stark is mostly just Downey Jr. being Downey Jr., but rarely has a marriage between a role and a actor's natural charisma been such a match made in Stan Lee's heaven. <p>Key to his massive appeal is that Downey Jr. knew enough to <i>revel</i> in simply being Stark <i>and</i> Iron Man in the first <i>Iron Man</i> and <i>The Avengers</i>. The pure joy he clearly had in being himself was infectious. Due to a script misstep, Downey and director Jon Favreau let that slip away in <i>Iron Man 2</i>. Being both Stark and Iron Man became burdensome, a major reason why that film came off as dour and soulless compared to the other two. Luckily, the focus came squarely back to Stark with the third movie, and he has at least two more tries - in the next two Avengers films - to nail it again. <p>Downey Jr.'s performance utilizes a different skill set than they Oldman or the <i>next</i> guy in our countdown, but its no less than impressive. He's the life of a now multi-billion-dollar party and fans don't seem ready to go home yet. <p><b>Signature Moment:</b> As we've previously mentioned in our countdown of the <a href=http://www.newsarama.com/comics/10-best-comic-book-movies-110625.html>Best Comic Book Films of All-Time</a>, his very first. The opening moments of <i>Iron Man</i> where Stark playfully hangs out with the soldiers escorting him from his weapons test immediately set the tone for the character. As was the case with the star struck soldiers, the audience like was immediate. Downey Jr. simply grabbed moviegoers from get-go and placed them under his spell. (But yeah, jumping from suit to suit in <i>Iron Man 3</i>'s climactic battle was pretty bad-ass, too).
<b>Why It's a Great Performance:</b> The thing about Heath Ledger's chaotic, troubling portrayal of the Joker in 2008's <i>The Dark Knight</i> is that, for months before the first image of the character was even released, Warner Brothers built the kind of legend around Ledger's performance that a lesser actor would never have been able to make good. <p>As the months leading up to the film went by, and both casual and hardcore fans participated in promotional scavenger hunts to be rewarded with even brief glimpses of Ledger in character, Warner Brothers, Director Christopher Nolan, co-stars Christian Bale and Gary Oldman, and even Ledger himself built a cult of personality around the Joker as a deranged terrorist, an anarchic force of nature that Bale's Batman couldn't begin to understand, let alone defeat. Stories of Ledger's supposed descent into madness while trying to fully embody the character still permeate conversation of the film, especially after Ledger's untimely death months before the film's release. <p>And you know what? Even with all that hype, all those stories, legends, and fan-speculation, Ledger managed to shatter expectations of what was possible in the confines of portraying an established character. Ledger fully embodied the Joker, disappearing not just behind layers of make-up and prosthesis, but behind odd, rickety movements, shifting eyes, a broken, disturbing voice, and the flick of a tongue. Ledger flat out became the Joker, not by aping what had come before, but by diving into the darkness and bringing it to the surface. <i>The Dark Knight</i>'s Joker was a definitive performance from an actor who was already well-renowned for his ability to find the core of every character he portrayed. <p><b>Signature Moment:</b> It's difficult to narrow down a single moment of <i>The Dark Knight</i> that truly defines Ledger's performance he steals every scene he's in but as good a choice as any is his confrontation with Aaron Eckhart's Harvey Dent, as the latter lays strapped to a hospital bed. Joker's bizarre bedside manner, his confession that he does what he does out of impulse and anarchy "I'm an agent of chaos" and his utter ambivalence at the possibility of death at Dent's hand (so long as whatever occurs solidifies Dent's transformation into Two-Face) all serve to truly offer a diagram of who this character is, and give Ledger the spotlight in one of the Joker's more intimate scenes. <p>Not to mention his nurse's outfit is pretty damn funny.