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Top 7 Best Portrayals of (Super)Heroes and (Super)Villians in Film

Updated on October 26, 2014

I was a comic book nerd when I was little. I loved comics. I was a big X-Men fan, but I liked Spiderman too. I read the comics, I watched the animated series. They were an escape for me, one where I could read about misftis, loners, heroes, villains, and a few characters who never really fit into any category.

When the superheroes of my childhood hit theaters, I was so excited. The sense of childish wonder has stuck with me from watching Spiderman fight the Lizard on my home tv to seeing Christian Bale charging at Heath Ledger on the big screen.

However, as often as we get a character who sticks true to the source material, we have two or three who are barely recognizable apart from their trademark outfits. In my last hub, I listed those who I felt were most poorly portrayed (in regards to the characters they were based off of in the comics), and this hub will be on those who were, in my opinion, portrayed extremely well.

No one messes with a guy in spandex...especially when it's blue and yellow.
No one messes with a guy in spandex...especially when it's blue and yellow.

7. Wolverine

I’m a big comic book nerd, but I was never really a Wolverine fan. Now that I’m older, I realize how cool of a character he is, but I remember that, when I was younger, he was just a big, tough, dumb Canadian. I preferred Nightcrawler and Gambit to Wolverine, since I could more easily relate to those who were outcasts who relied more on dexterity than brute force. But what’s really important when it comes to Wolverine is what we don’t know.

But enough about the comics book character, onto Hugh Jackman. One of the biggest problems with making a comic book movie is that you can’t have actors who look exactly like the characters. This is partly because there is the simple fact that it’s hard to take characters seriously when they are wearing yellow and blue spandex. Also, it’s a bit impossible to find a 5’3” Canadian who weighs 300lbs. When I heard Hugh Jackman was cast, I was a bit skeptical. But seeing his performances as Wolverine, I’ve become a bit of a fan. He brings the rough, gruff, and tough exterior that so perfectly embodies Wolverine. He’s a bit stupider and more juvenile than the Wolverine that you can read about today, but he captures the powerful, feral side that is Wolverine’s trademark.

I won't deny it, this song is on my ipod.

6. Zorro

Now I know that Zorro isn't really a superhero, but that's why "Super" is in parentheses. For me, Zorro had to be on this list, because I grew up watching Disney's Zorro as a child. For those of you who don't know who Zorro is: SHAME! Zorro is the hero of Los Angeles. He robs from the rich and gives to the poor. His alter ego, Don Diego de la Vega, is as wimpy as you could imagine. He makes himself seem to be wimpy and indecisive so that no one could ever guess that he is also The Fox, defender of the common man and champion of justice. He is very similar to Robin Hood, and not only is too clever to be caught, but enjoys tricking the soldiers who are constantly trying to catch him.

Now, the reason that Zorro makes this list is that there have been a few people to portray him, but there is only one man who truly captured who Zorro and Diego were to me: Guy Williams. You may know him from his roles as Will Cartwright on Bonanza and as Dr. John Robinson in Lost in Space. However, for someone like me who grew up after these shows had ended, I knew him only from the reruns of Zorro. He was so smooth, calm, and perfect in his separation of Zorro and Don Deigo. Other actors, like Antonio Banderas, didn't capture the reserve or cunning that Guy Williams' Zorro had, and I really do prefer a Zorro who is not as much about how much action there is, but how crafty he can be. I loved it when Guy used parts of his surroundings to either escape or humiliate the soldiers. Also, the comedic chemistry between Zorro and Sergeant Demetrio López García is one of my favorite "hunter and hunted" relationships ever (if only because they occasionally work together and the fact that Sergeant Garcia actually admits a few times that he doesn't really want to catch Zorro because then he'd actually have to do real work).

The rest of the cast is amazing as well, and this show contains some of my favorite childhood songs, but what really makes the whole thing work is Guy WIlliams' performance as The Fox. If you haven't seen this version, check it out. I have five VHS of the show (in original black and white) and they are even out on DVD now (though they havae been restored in full color, which takes a bit away from the experience). You can even see nearly every episode on YouTube.

Carnac has got nothing on me.
Carnac has got nothing on me.

5. Professor Charles Xavier

Patrick Stewart. From Captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise to Macbeth, this Brit is an amazing actor. He exudes a sense of power, stability, and control that seems to require a background in Shakespearian acting. He seems to be drawn to the fantastical, and when I heard he was set to be Professor X, I couldn’t think of a better casting choice.

Patrick Stewart may not have the jaw that the comic book Xavier has, but he definitely has the air of authority. I think one of the reasons he is so great in the roll is because, besides his outstanding talent, it is very similar to some of his other roles. Take the two roles I mentioned before: Captain Picard and Macbeth. Both are powerful, bald men who take on unbelievable odds and have to deal with the ramifications that come with being a leader who makes huge decisions. Sound like anyone familiar?

Though I am a little sad we didn't get to see Patrick Stewart turn into Onslaught, I enjoyed what he brought to the role. Personally, I feel that there are some roles that are meant for certain actors. Patrick Stewart as Professor Xavier is one, and the next man on the list is another.

The first time you see The Shadow.  I remember how cool this was to me when I was a little kid.
The first time you see The Shadow. I remember how cool this was to me when I was a little kid.

4. The Shadow

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? Alec Baldwin, that’s who. For those of you who aren’t familiar with The Shadow, he was created in pulp magazines, then went on to be a part of the golden age of radio dramas. He could cloud the minds of men, making himself invisible save for the one thing he could never hide: his shadow. He was trained by a mystical wise man after his time as a deadly and feared warlord in India. He returns to New York to fight crime in a trench coat, red scarf, and a hat that makes it slightly hard to take him seriously.

Now, I’m not a big Alec Baldwin fan, but his performance in The Shadow has made the movie one of my all-time favorites. What truly makes it such a great performance is how his maniacal laugh is so perfectly creepy, and his voice seems to have been made for the role. When he leans back into the dark and uses his jedi mind tricks on Jonathan Winters, you can’t help but smile. Then, he snaps back so quickly into his playboy persona with a smile that only Alec Baldwin can do…and that smile pops up throughout the film, each time as great as the next. I doubt that anyone could have done the part the justice he does.

Many critics have denounced the film, but I personally love it....but that's for another hub.

I'm Batman.
I'm Batman.

3. Batman

For many people, there is only one Batman, and that is Christian Bale. This is because the only other “Batmen” they know is either Clooney or Kilmer. However, for those of you who don't know, there was this guy called Michael Keaton. He was my first Batman, and he's still one of my favorites. But, no matter who you choose to be your "Batman," the fact remains that, as with the next character on my list, the reason why he makes this list is because he has been played by so many actors, and each brings something different to the role

Some prefer the campy, funny Batmen (Batmans?) portrayed by Adam West, Val Kilmer, or George Clooney. Others think that Michael Keaton or Christian Bale is better because they were play the part in a darker or more realistic way. Either way, there is someone for nearly every aspect of the changes that the Dark Knight has gone through during his many different characterizations. But, no matter who has been behind the cowl, they have always been a symbol of justice, a symbol of hope, and, no matter how goofy or stupid they looked doing it, they have always been: Batman.

Remember the moment you realized Luke Skywalker was the voice of the Joker?
Remember the moment you realized Luke Skywalker was the voice of the Joker?

2. The Joker

The Joker is my favorite villain of any comic book. He was and is the absolute most insane character I’ve ever encountered. The best part about him is the fact that he was, like so many others, not meant to be a reoccurring character. He was supposed to be a very minor character. But, because of his utter lack of morals, he provided the perfect foil for the Dark Knight. Throughout the years, he has been a minor criminal to a goofy clown to a heartless, merciless psychopath and everywhere imaginable in between. There has been a lot of discussion on who the best Joker is. Some prefer the crazy laugh of Caesar Romero, others like goofy antics of Jack Nickelson, while others find Heath Ledger’s performance to be the best. Like Batman, the fact that there have been multiple actors in the role, and for the same reasons. There is a Joker for everyone.

I’m torn between Mark Hamill and Ledger. Both reflect a certain balance of insanity and humor. Hamill was more on the humorous side, while Ledger definitely had a much darker approach to the Joker. However, they were both deadly, insane, and just enthralling to watch. No one Joker has captured the spirit of the character perfectly yet, and I don't think that anyone ever will. The Joker is too chaotic, just too plain clazy, to be captured by any sane actor. He

1. n/a

I've been trying to come up with the number one slot for over a week now, but I can't find someone who truly deserves the role. I considered just moving everyone up a spot and finding someone to fill in higher up the list, but then I realized that the reason I couldn't think of someone was because there simply wasn't anyone.

I know you may be disappointed, but hear me out. Recently, studios have been churning out more and more superhero movies. Each time a comic book filim is released by a different group, they bring their own take on the heroes and villians of that universe.

The reason why it is very unlikely that any film or actor can truly encompass what a comic book or graphic novel stood for is because of two reasons. First, times have changed. We live in a completely different era, where our heroes are simply "badass" or "cool," and our limited attention spans wouldn't be satisfied by a guy in multi-colored spandex who has emotional issues or deep seated fears. Secondly, movies are too short to contain all the information. That's why many comic books were made into tv shows, because then they weren't restricted to giving backstory or in depth characterization in such a short time frame. They allowed the story to keep its periodical format, which resulted in increased suspense as well as more time to get into the dirty details.

Maybe one day, this spot will be filled. However, for the moment, this spot will remain empty until someone truly portrays a hero or villian.

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    • AM Hanson profile image
      Author

      Adam M. Hanson 2 years ago from Mankato, MN

      I usually designate superheros as people who fight super villains, so Zorro really wouldn't work there. And yeah, Stewart's English, I don't remember why I thought he was Scottish...

    • William Avitt profile image

      William Avitt 2 years ago from Dayton, Ohio

      If Batman is a superhero, then Zorro is a superhero as well. Costume, secret identity, fights criminals and protects the innocent... what more do you need to be classified as a superhero? Also, Patrick Stewart is not a Scot, he's English. He was born in Mirfield, Yorkshire, England

    • Geekdom profile image

      Geekdom 4 years ago

      That was a fun follow to your 7 worst list. I was just like you with Wolverine. Skeptical at first but extremely pleased after I saw Hugh Jackman in the role.

      I saw it above and agree, Christopher Reeves should be number 1. Very few actors have become synonyms with a hero like Christopher Reeves is with superman. Maybe Lynda Carter for Wonder Woman but that would be television. Robert Downy Jr. also did an amazing job as Iron Man and would be pretty high on my list.

    • Stevennix2001 profile image

      Steven Escareno 5 years ago

      interesting list

    • AM Hanson profile image
      Author

      Adam M. Hanson 5 years ago from Mankato, MN

      @mikewriggs: as with most of the suggestions, I sadly haven't seen that superman...though I do intend to fix that at some point in the very near future.

      @thatmovieguy: thanks! I was tempted to have the Prof X spot be shared with Ian, but he just didn't have the outright fearsomeness that I had hoped for...Sir Ian can be quite imposing, but it's in a much more subliminal and mental way.

      @RolyRetro: I really, really, REALLY need to see this movie. Everything I've heard has been good. I was never really a big Avengers fan though, which is probably the reason why no Avengers made it on either of my lists.

    • RolyRetro profile image

      RolyRetro 5 years ago from Brentwood, Essex, UK

      Hulk in the new Avengers film is pretty good, really good balance between the calm inner Doctor Banner and ultra-aggressive Hulk. Not exactly acting but good characterisation in the CGI.

      Cheers

      Roly

    • profile image

      thatmovieguy71 5 years ago

      I too was a comic book freak as a kid, with X-Men and SpiderMan being my favorites as well. This is an interesting hub - I like how you include non-traditional heroes as well. I liked Gene Hackman's Lex Luthor in the first Superman movie and Ian McKellen as Magneto.

    • mikewriggs profile image

      mikewriggs 5 years ago from Buffalo, NY

      Great read! I voted up! I'm a bit of a comic book/super hero nerd myself. I've always been partial to the original superman movies from the late 70's. I thought Christopher Reeves nailed that part!

    • AM Hanson profile image
      Author

      Adam M. Hanson 5 years ago from Mankato, MN

      I did see Iron Man, but I never read the comics, so I couldn't really gauge his performance...I had heard it was pretty loyal, but I had also heard there were a couple things that were totally off so I wasn't sure and I just stuck with what I knew haha

    • Bcollins9 profile image

      Bcollins9 5 years ago from Texas

      Have you seen Iron Man? I would say Robert Downey Jr. nailed Tony Stark/Iron Man on the head for your number 1 spot. Very entertaining read. I voted it up.

    • smcphatter profile image

      smcphatter 5 years ago from East Orange New Jersey

      That is like so cool... :) I LOVE SUPER HEROES!!!!!!!!!!!!! PLLLLLLEEEEAAAASSSEEEE send me a picture or two at smcphatter2003@gmail.com