Comic Book Casting: The THUNDERBOLTS Movie

While the comic series might be transitioning to a new name as Dark Avengers this year, in the grand scheme of things the Thunderbolts are something special in the Marvel universe. Incarcerated super villains given a second chance as part of a government sponsored superhero team on a short leash. Although not the original concept (we’ll get to that), since it’s re-invention by Warren Ellis and Mike Deodato Jr. back during the “Civil War” era it’s become an interesting counterpoint to all the heroes and their team.

And now with The Avengers coming in to be one of the most popular movies of all time, imagine if the big thinkers at Marvel Studios decided to make a relatively low-budget Thunderbolts movie using the framework already established with S.H.I.E.L.D. in the movies? There’s a load of villains from the movies already in custody, and a few others in comics chomping at the bit for their chance to make their big screen debut. Here we go.

The Concept:

Culling from villains already shown onscreen with a few new additions, a Thunderbolts movie could be be a gritty action movie in the vein of A-Team. And after all the buzz surrounding a Luke Cage movie, imagine pairing that with the Thunderbolts in one big movie?  Cage, a reformed villain himself, given the keys to the superhuman prison to pick out some others who the government would like to see on the side of the angels. The tension between the team-mates would make the in-fighting in Avengers look like child’s play.

Some might argue that a Thunderbolts movie should follow the path of the comic series, starting with the Baron Zemo-era of villains masquerading as heroes to pull off a big scheme, but the later concept introduced by Ellis & Deodato gets to the point more. If the series is successful, you could go back and reel in the Baron Zemo era and attempt to be more true to the comic continuity, but at this point going with the strong “villains given a second chance as heroes” speaks more directly to casual movie-goers.

The Director:

There’s a short list of directors who can accurately do action movies with style and substance in this day and age, and one of the top ones on my list is Joe Carnahan. Although Smoking Aces was a bit senseless, The A-Team and The Grey were more measured. Imagine turning that kind of creativity towards the Thunderbolts concept.

The Cast:

Luke Cage – Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson: I’m not the only one who thinks Johnson is tailor-made for superhero movies, and I think seeing him take on the role of Luke Cage would be every fan’s dream come true. While he has experience dressing up in tights and costumes, the role of Luke Cage would allow him to wear street clothes and kick ass. As an actor and a personality, he could easily carry a Thunderbolts movie in terms of name recognition, but getting a little help from a Nick Fury cameo wouldn’t hurt either. Likewise, seeding a Thunderbolts movie in Avengers 2 or one of the solo flicks would be a no-brainer — a post credits scene with Nick Fury putting a movie villain in prison, with Johnson-as-Cage asking if the villain-in-question would be right for the Thunderbolts. Fade to black.

Abomination – Tim Roth: Roth-as-Abomination was one of the best parts of The Incredible Hulk, but that movie’s been largely overlooked in the Marvel movies’ scheme of things. But imagine bringing him back as an imprisoned villain given a second chance under the watchful eye of Luke Cage? The pieces are already in place, as the short film Marvel One Shot: The Consultant (On the Thor DVD) showed the shadowy group in charge of S.H.I.E.L.D. wanted Roth’s Abomination for the Avengers Initiative. Imagine a mutated Abomination with the mouth of Tim Roth arguing with Luke Cageor better yet, how about Abomination chained to his human form by the government working under Cage?

Ghost – Bill Hader: Ghost is one of the few characters whom not much is known about, not even his real name. Putting Hader in this auspicious role would fill out the character and also allow for some cool character moments and interactions with the other Thunderbolts while using special effects to show off his powers.

Moonstone – Amber Heard:Living up to the moniker of ‘femme fatale’, Amber Heard has shown herself a different kind of movie starlet — if you don’t believe me, watch Drive Angry. And like her, Moonstone is a different kind of character — one I think Heard could fill out with her boisterous personality.

Songbird – Odette Annable: She’s no Kitty Pryde, but she is in a way the most innocent member of the Thunderbolts team — even if they’re all villains. Seeing her on House shows she’s got the acting chops, and giving her a shot at the big time with Thunderbolts would be a great use of her skills and her ability to get on the viewers’ good side.

Crossbones – Jason Statham: Some might say Crossbones’ movie debut should come in a Captain America film, but what if you started him off as a part of the Thunderbolts with an already long history of vaudevillian behind him. He could be the counterpoint to Luke Cage on the team and, well, when Crossbones double-crosses the team — as he is prone to do — it could easily set up a future meeting with Cap in another film.


  1. Carnahan – FUCK YES.

    I’d say Old Spice Guy for Cage, since he wants to do it so bad. Give him his own solo movie first, see how that goes.

    I also really did not like Roth in The Incredible Hulk, but I suppose you’d want a sense of continuity there. Although they did recast Banner…

    Everyone else: yeah, good.

  2. While I personally would love to see The Rock as Luke Cage (he is tailor-made for superhero movies), I can easily see people getting up in arms over Luke not being black.

    • Chris Arrant (@chrisarrant) says:

      The Rock’s half African American, half Hawaiian, so I think he can fit into it. People accepted Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, so this isn’t too much of a stretch..

    • I think for this character it’s a lot more important. Cage sprang out of the blacksploitation films and the harlem counter culture of the time. I think Luke’s race is more important to his character and his story arc than any other character in Marvel besides T’Challa or Storm. Plus I just don’t like the Rock’s voice for Cage.

    • People accepted Jackson as Fury because of the Ultimate Universe Nick Fury being inspired by Jackson in the first place.

    • @ Chris Arrant But there is really nothing about Nick Fury that says he needs to be one ethnicity or another, A HUGE part of Luke Cage is his ethnicity. Exactly what RoiVampie said.

      Also, the fans would have the same problem with this that they had with Michael Clarke Duncan playing Kingpin. His ethnicity is such a huge part of the character taking it away is like dismissing half the character. Seriously, Will Smith could have played Daredevil (and would have done a better job of it, in my opinion, best actor ever).

      Now, I think The Rock could pull it off. Being half African American is enough in my book. But I also like the idea of letting Isaiah Mustafa have his big break with this one.

    • Chris Arrant (@chrisarrant) says:

      RoiVampire: People seemed to accept Halle Berry as Storm in the 3 X-men movies, even though her mother is Caucasian.

    • I think race is not a major issue as long as the character on spot. If the major part of the character is there race then you need to address that. A secluded African kingdom? Black Panther kinda has to be black. A mystical race who come from other planets but who may have possibly inspired a primitive culture, who undoubtedly would have imaged them to reflect their own viking culture whether they did or not? Heimdal can be whatever colour you like, I think. Luke Cage, false imprisoned on drugs charges who changes his ways and goes back to reinvigorate and do good in the ghetto he was raised in by giving the youth the chance to get out of the gangs. He is just so entrenched in that world he kinda needs to be the Luke Cage we know.

      That said I think the race issue can become to much of a problem and its not really the point. I think Michael Clark Duncan made that role his own, though it helps Kingpin is not a race specific character (which I just realised is a horrible phrase).

      Anyway my problem with casting the Rock is he just doesn’t strike me as the right fit. And I like him.

    • @Chris “Seemed to accept” is not the same as “head over heels.” Fans shouldn’t have to accept it, they shouldn’t need to use that word. Also Halle Berry was awful as storm in the first X-Men movie and just ok in the next two. I remember people had a real problem with her accent in the first one.

      To put it in a better light I’ll say this. Luke is my second favorite character in the Marvel Universe and I just want him to have an actor that gets it. That fully embodys the role so that when i look at them I’m not even seeing an actor I’m seeing Luke.

      When I look at Dwayne Johnson I see The Rock

    • Vidman- Actually if you want to get down to it there is something that says Nick Furry should be caucasian.
      The time he was born.
      That character was born/created in an era where most assuredly only a white male would have held that kind of position post war in the U.S, Millitary – the times and the culture of that era are essential in forming that character and they dictate that Nick Furry is caucasian.
      I trust I don’t have to do a lengthy explanation of why I am not a racist and that I do not agree with the politics or socio morays of this era – just that – that is the way things were and they are part of this character.

    • but as far as we know Nick Fury in the films is not powered by the Infinity Formula (thankfully) and so is probably as old as he looks and could have got that (fictional) job I guess. Different character from the ol’ Howler

    • He is half African American half Samoa. He fits the role to me

    • I just feel that in today’s media climate, where the vast majority of high profile movie stars are African-American, it is important that films, even ones based on licensed properties, branch out and add a little cultural diversity. I know that there are a lot more opportunities for actors who do not identify as Black than there have been historically, but I still feel it is worth commending the bravery of those Hollywood studios that are willing to say- “you know what? Our film is good enough that it can succeed even without a Black lead!” Surely the presidency of half-white Barack Obama has shown that the standard Black, male, heteronormative perspective has been increasingly challenged in the 21st century.

  3. Screw the Sam Jackson cameo. Bring back Willam Dafoe as Osborne and leave fans going WTF?

    • Don’t you mean Tommy Lee Jones?

      Also wouldn’t Michael Jai White be a better fit as Luke Cage? Big black man that can act tough but at the same time can actually act. Also don’t forget that he has done blaxplotation as well.

  4. Wow Jason Statham as Crossbones is a brilliant idea. If Statham can drop his British Accent & really take the role seriously, then I don’t see why Marvel wouldn’t put him in Captain America 2. Thunderbolts is a nice idea & a fanboy’s dream, but unfortunately Marvel would most likely bring out their more established characters for sequels sooner than introduce new characters in their own solo film adventures. Hence the possibility the Incredible Hulk 2 might be the “mysterious” Marvel film planned in 2014 along side Cap 2, even though months ago people speculated a possible Dr. Strange film, yet now that Avengers is doing spectacular & the Hulk has just been revitalized both as a character & as a franchise (comics sales for Hulk increased dramatically after Avengers came out), perhaps Marvel might just give it another go. I for one have been really anticipating The Leader to show up on screen, maybe even She-Hulk, idk, hopefully Tim Blake Nelson would return for the role, but if they completely re-cast it like they did in the 1st one, I’m fine with that.

  5. Love this team an the list of actors for their roles, all except Statham.

  6. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    Hader as Ghost is an inspired choice.

  7. I love the concept and the idea of a spin-off film. Maybe if they had a heroes for hire series (like one of the shorter fill in season series- like the River) then people might have a taste for Cage without having to lay out the work of building up to one film just to lead into this film.

    I do like a lot of the casting but I’d still prefer Terry Crews for Cage. I didn’t like that idea when I first heard it called but its really growing on me. As for Ghost I really see somewhere more like Nolte playing him. Or better yet (and again totally different) Michael Emerson. I like the rest of the calls though. You got your teams Cap, Hulk, Iron Man, psycho lady Thor, sonic Black Widow and pure evil Hawkeye there too.

    Maybe seed throughout the movie that the villains are planning to break ranks at a pivtoal point of the plan but ultimately a few Songbird and Ghost perhaps, turn on their teammates and decide to really make a go of being heroes. Film would end with Ghost disappearing, the crooks eventually getting away and Songbird and Cage looking through files for the next stage of recruitment???

    Then you have the idea of villains pretending to be ‘heroes’ but being disingenuous as well as some genuinely converting plus the latest tone of a rotating cast of characters.

  8. How will I ever read Thunderbolts again without imagining Bill Hader as Ghost? Awesome idea. Why no Mach-V in this cast, though? Gotta have the OG’s, son!

  9. Was Crossbones British in the comics? I know he worked with the Red Skull a lot but I’m pretty sure he was from the States. Ah well, if they can make Abomination English, they can do the same for Crossbones.

    Interesting list, guys. You should do Starman next.

  10. Just realised you so need Man-Thing to be in this!

  11. The only choice for Luke Cage is Terry Crews.

  12. I’ve always pictured Isaiah Mustafah as Luke Cage as I heard him mention he would like to audition for the role.

  13. I’d rather see a Suicide Squad movie with Harley Quinn, Deadshot, Lime and Light,King Shark, Diablo, Yo-Yo, and Dr.Light. Pretty much the current Squad plus Dr.Light. I really with Adam Glass would bring back Lime from the dead. I was heartbroken when Amanda Waller blasted off her head.

  14. if you ask me, they already set up tbolts pretty well with black widow talking about getting rid of the red in her ledger. so, put her in tbolts. i don’t think you can have too much scarlett johansson.

    i hate the idea of the rock as luke cage (i’m not a fan of the rock in anything but wrestling), but i’m not sure who i’d cast instead. i really do want a luke cage solo movie, though.

  15. Christopher Judge is the perfect Luke Cage. There was even an episode of Stargate that could practically serve as a screen test for it (season 8’s Affinity). He’s got the bulk for it, and he definitely has the range and the screen presence to pull it off.