5 Surprising COMIC MOVIE Castings that Worked Out Well

Official: Andrew Garfield is SPIDER-MAN

Its official: British (though American-born) actor Andrew Garfield (The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus) will play Peter Parker/Spider-Man in the upcoming reboot of the Web-Head’s film franchise.  The news has already caused the more than the typical amount of internet consternation among those loyal to Tobey Maguire’s performance, hardcore Spidey purists, fans of long shot candidate Donald Glover and everyone in-between.

Casting real-live humans in four-color roles is one of the most difficult and risky decisions in the transitioning a comic from page to screen.  A comic book character popular enough to warrant screen time has likely been in the hand of a dozen different writers and artists, each with different take on the character varying from slight to severe. Moreover, the very nature of the comic book medium allows the reader to put their own voices in the roles, causing a jarring experience when an actor’s interpretation becomes cemented in the popular imagination.  Mr. Garfield has a serious challenge ahead of him, but it is not unheard of that unorthodox or surprise casting can lead to success.

Michael Clarke Duncan as The Kingpin

The Character:  The Kingpin, infamous for a bulky, room-filling frame that hides great strength, is the undisputed master of New York’s criminal underworld.

The MovieDaredevil (2003)

The Actor: The sizable bodyguard-turned-actor Michael Clarke Duncan had proven himself across genres with a memorable performance in the blockbuster Armageddon and netting a Best Supporting Actor nomination for The Green Mile.

Why it worked:  When the (rumored) search for a Caucasian man who was not only large, but a talented enough actor to play The Kingpin fell through, the bold choice to cast Duncan proved to be wise.  Duncan brought not only his large frame, but also the air of cool menace that The Kingpin embodies as a man who can figuratively (and literally) crush all who oppose him, but don’t need to show that fact off.

Michael Keaton as Batman

The Character:  Heir to the family fortune, a young Bruce Wayne is helpless to stop a mugger from killing his parents in front of him.  He then dedicates his life to fighting crime under the guise of the Batman.

The MovieBatman (1989)

The Actor:  Michael Keaton to that point had made himself known with his manic comedic performances in such films as Mr. Mom and Beetlejuice, with a few lesser-known dramatic roles like Clean and Sober.

Why it worked:  back in 1989, Batman as popularized by the 1960s TV version still held sway in the public imagination, whereas the Dark Knight Returns/grim and gritty interpretation was the Batman embraced by the ‘true fans.’  Director Tim Burton split that hair with his trademark ‘unreal’ visuals and Keaton’s performance as a gadget-toting, stealthy hero driven by a manic intensity.

Thomas Jane as The Punisher

The Character:  Vietnam Vet Frank Castle sees his family gunned down in the crossfire of a mob war and takes his military training to the streets of New York and the fully lethal vigilante known as The Punisher.

The MovieThe Punisher (2004)

The Actor: After an almost 20 year career Thomas Jane has just begun to breakout beyond supporting roles in action/dramas like Face/Off and The Thin Red Line to a starring role in Deep Blue Sea.

Why it worked:  A result of the movie’s hodgepodge blend of the Punisher origin and the Welcome Back, Frank storyline, hamper the film with weird tonal shifts, useless side characters and an unremarkable foil.  However, once Jane’s Castle is clear of his supporting characters he delivers the grim intensity and gallows humor the character is known for.

Stephen Dorff as Deacon Frost

The Character:  Deacon Frost, an immortal (albeit middle-aged looking) vampire lord, is a minor foe of the vampire-hunting dhampir Blade.  Aside from the standard complement of vampire powers, Frost was able to create duplicates of people he bites that follow his commands.

The MovieBlade (1998)

The Actor: Stephen Dorff, aged 25, was a former child actor who had found work in small scale, independent films like S.W.F. and I Shot Andy Warhol.

Why it worked:  Free of the burden of having to closely follow a popular characterization, Deacon Frost was reconceptualized as a rebel vampire that rails against not just his nemesis Blade, but also against an Anne Rice style “vampire establishment,” a quasi-romantic dark bureaucracy that remains (re: Twilight) popular in vampire fiction.  The energy and humor brought by Dorff’s Frost frequently steals the spotlight from the stoic Blade of Wesley Snipes and is commonly cited as the reason that the first Blade is considered the best.

Heath Ledger as The Joker

The Character:  The Clown Prince of Crime is more than just Batman’s opposite number, but an embodiment of chaos itself.  A mass-murderer the Joker’s insanity and capacity for violence makes him a human train wreck: a horror too compelling to look away from.

The MovieThe Dark Knight (2008)

The Actor:  Going into The Dark Knight, Ledger was known for his matinee-idol looks and a string of teen-romance films including 10 Things I Hate About You and A Knight's Tale before his polarizing breakout role in Brokeback Mountain.

Why it worked:  Fused with Director Christopher Nolan’s conception of the Batman franchise, Ledger completely transformed himself and (possibly fatally) disappeared into the role, bringing the Joker to life as an unknowable engine of destruction.  Oscar nominations for the performance would be due even without the tragic circumstances of Ledger’s death.

What was the most surprising comic casting that worked for you?

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