Top 5: Best Movie Portrayals of Comic Book Characters

These folks did exactly what was on the page, and made those characters real, as they were written. 

5. Harvey Pekar – Paul Giamatti


4. Leonidas – Gerard Butler


3. Tony Stark – Robert Downey Jr.


2. Rorschach – Jackie Earle Haley


1. J. Jonah Jameson – J.K. Simmons


  1. Would Jackie Earle Haley tell everyone on this list that he isn’t stuck there with them, but they are stuck there with him?

    and good pick on Number 1!

  2. @WeaklyRoll – Ha! You beat me to it.

  3. I really like Michael Caine as Alfred.  He seems perfect in that role.  Morgan Freeman also does an excellent job as Lucius Fox.  Hell, Gary Oldman is excellent, too.  (That is one hell of a supporting cast.)

    Christopher Reeve as Clark Kent.  I don’t think his Superman is perfect (one man’s opinion), but he really nails Kent. 

  4. Christopher Reeve as Superman/Clark Kent
    Michael Keaton as Batman/Bruce Wayne
    Stan Lee as Stan Lee in Marvel movies
    Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark
    Jack Nicholson as The Joker


  5. Christian Bale as Batman, Ed Norton as Bruce Banner, Liam Neesan as Ra’s al Ghul

  6. Yep, we have had great actors play our comic book heroes on screen, too many to acknowledge. Feel slightly bummed Brandon Routh didn’t get chance at a great Sups run. Sometimes things dont fall into place properly. Life happens. Still, like the fellow a lot, my not secret mancrush. “Tell it to the cleaning lady on Monday”. His run in Chuck was pretty cool. Hate that he is handsome!

  7. I totally and wholeheartedly agree, especially with No. 1.

  8. I’d switch out Jackie Earle Haley and put in Gary Oldman as Jim Gordon. And maybe Kelsey Grammar as Beast over Leonidas. I always pictured Leonidas as being older, and less of a screamer.

  9. I applaud the #1 pick.  Pitch freaking perfect.  Can’t really argue with any of these picks.  Michael Caine as Alfred would be #6

  10. I don’t believe in hyperbole but I do believe that J.K. Simmons as J.J.J. was the finest acting performance in the history of film.

  11. List is perfect.

  12. @ActualButt  I second that! Gary Oldman as Jim Gordon was a wonderful casting

  13. While I do love the performances of Keaton, Freeman, Nicholson, Caine, etc., they really didn’t recreate the characters from the page as much as brought their own things to it.  The folks on this list, they did exactly what was on the page, and made those characters real, as they were written. 

    Gary Oldman is probably an oversight on my part. But I wouldn’t take anyone off this list for him, either.

  14. Agree wholeheartedly with #1-3
    Only seen the movie for #4
    Only read the comic for #5

    As far as some of the other ones mentioned in the comics, I personally think Christian Bale would make a better Dick Grayson than he would a Bruce Wayne.
    I love Michael Cain but I dont really see him as Alfred, maybe its cos hes not bald enough
    Liam Neeson is a pretty cool Ras though.

  15. Great list. If I could add a sixth it’d be out of Eric Bana as Bruce Banner or Chris Evans as Jensen.

  16. I agree with Josh, there have been quite a few direct comic characters that have been translated quite well. 

    what about Michael Gough as Alfred from the Tim Burton Batman’s? He was pretty prefect.  

  17. Great list.  It’s nice to see someone finally recognize Paul Giamatti.  I constantly have to remind my wife that is JK playing JJJ.  It’s almost like he disappears into the role.  I hope they bring him back for the reboot.

  18. I think Gough was even more off model than Caine.

    You know, Chris Evans as Jensen, and Chris Evans as Johnny Storm were BOTH pretty spot on.

  19. @josh  Great list.  I’d put Alfred Molina as Doctor Octopus and Michael Gough as Alfred for 6 and 7.

  20. I’m not sure I understood that this was an accuracy issue (true to the comics).  I was primarily listing people that I thought did a fantastic job in their particular role.  

    If we’re after accuracy, then I’d actually agree that Chris Evans as Johnny Storm was extremely accurate (based on my limited experience with Fantastic Four comics).  

    Kate Beckinsale was pretty spot on in Whiteout.  Not a great movie or a great role, but she was very true to the character (in my opinion).

  21. What? No Schwarzenegger as Victor Freeze?!?….wow, I could barely bring myself to type that out.

  22. I could do a Top 5 WORST pretty easily. Just with Schumacher movies.

  23. Great list josh I would say Heath ledgers joker, but I don’t think I could pull anyone off to pit him in

  24. He doesn’t look the part precisely, but it would be difficult to say hugh jackman hasn’t been a wildly successful wolverine. He’s played the character as accurately as Downey has played Iron Man.

  25. If this list were a top 10 I’d have to put Ellen Wong as Knives Chau on it for sure

    I still use the JJJ quote about libel vs slander at least once a month

  26. Epic list, though I would switch out Leonidas for Oldman’s Jim Gordon. And Ron Pearlman’s Hellboy would be my #6.

    Also think there are too many comic book interpretations of characters like Superman, Batman, and the Joker to expect a 1:1 translation (unless they make a Miller-G#$&$-Batman movie). This isn’t a bad thing, but it takes them out of the running for this list.

    And for a non-Schumacher entry for the WORST list, I’d pick Affleck’s Matt Murdock/Daredevil. Because I actually saw that movie.

  27. 5 Least Accurately Portrayed: Schwarzeneger as Dr. Freeze in Batman & Robin, Halle Berry as Storm in X-Men (her performance improved greatly in the sequels), Michael Madsen as Bob (Hartigan’s partner) in Sin City, Malin Akerman as Silk Spectre in Watchmen, Mark Boone Jr. as Det. Flass in Batman Begins

  28. Coolest Easter Egg cameo in Comic Book Movies

    Billy Dee Williams as Harvey Dent

  29. Anyone who replaces JK Simmons in the new Spider-Man movie is just going to greatly pale in comparison.

  30. What about Hit Girl?

  31. @thursday—Ron Perlman is pretty awesome as Hellboy
    @josh–you really think Gough was off as Alfred? The character has evolved a bit over time, and i think he felt and looked the part for that specific version. Maybe i just have found memories of that movie overall.

    Samuel Jackson as Nick Fury is a good time.  

  32. I think this list and the discussion should serve to remind us just how damn lucky we’ve been as comic book fans.  We’ve seen a number of extremely well executed films, featuring fantastic actors, based on the material we love.

  33. @wallythegreenmonster There was nothing wrong with Gough, but he wasn’t Alfred from the comics.

  34. John Leguozamo as Clown.

  35. I think we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Billy Zane as the Phantom. I really believed he was friends with both the wolf and the horse and that the wolf and horse were also friends themselves. 

  36. I’d be interested in a top 5 list of Actors and the Comic book characters they should be cast as.  aka Dream Casting.

  37. A little love for the female characters too. Bad script aside, Helen Slater made a great Supergirl.

    Alison Pill and Ellen Wong were pitch perfect as Kim Pine and Knives Chau in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. 

  38. @THEHOCHE  Personally, I suck at the casting game. Can’t do it. Doesn’t mean someone else won’t.

  39. Ms. Brant!….where is she…Ms. Brant! Give this man a raise!

  40. @josh  well as far as Worst Movie Portrayals go Nic Cage as GhostRider, Tommy Lee Jones as Two Face (not sure if that’s his fault), Collin Farell as Bulleye just to start it off.

  41. Great list.  I can only hope they bring back J.K. as JJJ for the new Spider-Man films.  He was so rad in that role.

  42. @PaulMontgomery  Scott Pilgerim’s supporting players are a supporting cast rivaling Nolan’s Batman cast.

  43. Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Comedian was perfect.

  44. Josh, while I love this list, gotta disagree with the #3 pick, based your criteria. In my opinion, Downey brought a whole lotta Downey to the Stark role that wasn’t already there. Not a bad thing, but different from what you said you were choosing for.

  45. Where is OSCAR winner Heath Ledger? He won a OSCAR for the Joker!

  46. @Anville  He’s an anomaly. While he did bring a lot of RDJ, it also works in the context of the classic Tony Stark. Not sure why, but there it is.

  47. @josh  Yeah i feel the same way. RDJ was Tony Stark before he was even cast. When he was cast as Stark I was like “Well yeah, who else could it be?”

  48. RDJ and Stark are basically the same person, with different hobbies.

  49. @ccarney: Read Josh’s replies. It’s not really a list of great performances (though acting skill is a factor). It’s a list of accurate portrayals of the comic versions. Ledger’s Joker goes in the history books, but while it captures a good deal of what makes the Joker work, it’s a pretty bold reimagining.

    Nice to see Leonidas up there. I’ve always thought Butler hit that outta the park. Haley’s and Giamatti’s renditions are great choices too. I would put Perlman’s Hellboy on my list, but we could do this all day. Nice work.

  50. Ok, let’s not get anal about this. It’s a freaking list, not an actual competition w rules! You all can like whoever you want. And on that note, Ledger’s was truly magnetic performance, looooved it! I’ll watch RDJ in anything he’s in. No love for Cage’s Big Daddy?! I call foul play! Been crushing Ramona Flowers since Sky High. She even looked hot on the fight scenes. The whole movie had suberb fight scenes.

  51. Halle Berry as Omaha the Cat Dancer

  52. Also weird is that years before he was cast as Tony Stark, RDJ released an album called “The Futurist”

  53. No Christopher Reeve? Mind you, it’s still a good list but, to my mind, no one has ever captured a comics character better than Christopher Reeve.  So much so that when I think of Superman, I actually think of him before any comic book version – and that’s saying something.

  54. Also throwing some love to the ladies: Hit Girl, Knives Chau, Margot Kidder as Lois Lane.  And I kind of want to throw Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman in, though she wasn’t particularly accurate to the comic, due to sheer awesomeness; ditto for Rebecca Romjin as Mystique.

  55. @ohcaroline  I never liked Margo Kidder.

  56. She wasn’t very likable as Lois Lane.  Lois Lane should be (in my humble opinion) impressively dynamic, wickedly intelligent, attractive, but not seductive, and a bit feisty, but not grating.

    Margo Kidder was missing too many of those elements. 

  57. Does Mark Hamil’s Joker qualify, being in Mask of the Phantasm?

  58. @Tork  Not in my book. But I wouldn’t have put him on there anyway. For one thing, I don’t remember a damn thing about that movie.

  59. @ohcaroline  @josh  @stuclach  I think Margot Kidder was a great Lois in the original film and she got really bad really fast after that. (She also got crazy real fast which is why I think they stopped using her and Lana became the love interest in III)

  60. @conor  I can see that.  It probably doesn’t help the the last Reeve’s era Superman film I watched was IV.

  61. Yeah I totally would have added Gary Oldman as Gordon on this list as well. Also, what about Mickey Rourke as Marv from Sin City! That dude was totally the comic book page brought to life.

  62. how bout Bill Campbell as the Rocketeer? Cause y’know we need more honorable mentions and opinions on this… =)

    @llash–i agree with you on Christopher Reeve… 

  63. @josh  Wow, I’m surprised you didn’t go with Heath Ledger.

  64. @Conor I think they didn’t use Lois in III because Kidder was vocally unhappy with the way that Richard Donner was treated on II. Producers weren’t happy with her. At least, that’s how I heard it. I suppose she decided that IV was too important not to be a part of it. Or she just needed the money.

  65. @ josh What, no Hugoo Weaving as V in V for Vendetta? His voice is the one I hear when I read the book! Also, he did the WHOLE effin’ movie in that mask!!

    what about the Tom Hanks as Michael Sullivan(the father) in Road to Perdition. I think it was a very underrated era movie and Hanks did a bang up job as the protective father, revengeful hitman type

  66. Have to at least compliment Heath Ledger for his original take on the Joker, but, yeah,

    I think of Juno’s dad everytime I read J Jonah Jameson ever since,

    and I think of Jackie Earle Haley each time I reread Watchmen.

  67. Macualay Culkin as Richie Rich?

  68. Great list!

  69. Perfect list really. JK Simmons seriously was JJJ and, even though he’s not the main character by any means, I’m so unenthused about the new Spider-Man movie because no one is going to live up to Simmons.

    I think Reeves could have been on here but I don’t have any other problems with this list. Oh Pepper Potts actually! Gwyneth Paltrow really brought that character to life I felt.

  70. Oh and really anyone in Sin City could be on this list. Especially Mickey Rourke and Clive Owen.

  71. Margo was awesome in the first movie, anyway.  But i’m not going to argue this point with Josh, because he makes the absolutely indisputable point that JK Simmons is the best of everything.

  72. ummmmm the asian dude that played Storm Shadow in G.I. Joe

  73. I have to agree on whats been said about Heath Ledgers Joker. It was a brilliant performance but it was quite different from the comic book Joker, plus when it all comes down to, when you read the comics, do you hear Ledgers voice or Mark Hammills?

  74. @DarkKnightDetective  Neither.

  75. I think there are a variety of Jokers in the comics right now. I like Mark Hamill’s take, but I don’t hear his voice when I read Morrison’s Joker, for instance. 

  76. @DarkKnightDetective: heath ledger’s joker was great but yeah it wasnt the character and when I am reading comic with the joker I dont hear any of their voices, to be honest I just hear my voice only more sinister and with a laugh, and I am not kidding thats just what happen haha, hopfully that doesnt say anything about me but whatever…..GREAT LIST! 

  77. I thought Jeffrey Dean Morgan nailed The Comedian, but who do you take off the list? I won’t kid myself, I would drop Giamatti, more for personal taste in comics/film than anything else.

  78. Nice list. I’d definitely add Goldman as Gordon and the cast of Scott Pilgrim, especially Ellen Wong as Knives.

  79. I kinda feel like there should be a supporting role list and a main role list. In some ways, the supporting guys have it easier ’cause they don’t need to do as much.

    Overall, though, while there are folks I’d swap out, it’s a good list. 🙂

  80. How about Ramona Flowers?

  81. jjj is a great number 1

  82. I also used to dig Michael Gough as Alfred.  He was the only one who didn’t suck at Batman & Robin.

    RIP Michael Gough… (03/17/2011)

  83. My list would have to have Mickey Rourke as Marv in Sin City, Patrick stewert as professor X in X-mena nd Brandon Lee as the crow in The Crow. I would also have Jackie Earle Haley as Rorsack and JK Simmons as JJJ in the top spot.

  84. Shouldn’t the entire cast of the 60s Batman movie be on here because they nailed the characters exactly from the books of the era they were in?

  85. I thought Patrick Warburton as the Tick on the live-action series was a dead-on portrayal.

  86. Wow, I can’t believe David Hasselhoff’s Nick Fury isn’t on this list.  And of course I’m kidding, but for some reason, that image popped into my head when I saw this headline. 

  87. I liked the dude who played Thor on the Bill Bixby Hulk series…:)
    Great list…JK Simmons is AWESOME as Jameson…Couldn’t agree more!

  88. ya really…no Heath ledger?!

  89. @Scrawl  Read the very first sentence, and you tell me if you think Heath Ledger did that.

  90. I actually think Robert Downey Jr. was  playing himself and the comic book character became more like him after the film. Either way, nice list.

  91. @comicBOOKchris: Very true. That’ll be a real downer if he isn’t recast as JJJ. The best extra footage in 2.1 was him in the suit.

  92. Max Von Sydow as Ming the Merciless.