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Top 10 Actors Who Played Comic Book Characters

19 Aug

Comic book themes in television and film are a multi-billion dollar industry. Last year, The Dark Knight became one of the highest grossing films in history and one of only six movies to earn more than a billion dollars worldwide. Today, film fans and comic fanboys alike wait breathlessly for the upcoming Thor, Captain America and Avengers films.

It took decades before the public widely accepted these characters’ transition from the page to the big screen. Here are 10 actors whose contributions were invaluable in making comic books a part of mainstream Hollywood.

10. Adam West

Best known as: Batman / Bruce Wayne from the Batman television series (1966-1968)

West was one of the pioneers in bringing the super-hero to life, albeit, with a more tongue-in-cheek flavor. While the Batman series can be credited (or blamed) for placing super-heroes in the realm of campy one-liners and gimmicks, it also brought them out of kids’ bedrooms and into our living rooms.

9. Hugh Jackman

Best known as: Wolverine / Logan from X-Men (2000)

X-Men led the pack of Hollywood blockbusters that dominated the last decade and its success was largely thanks to Jackman’s ground-breaking performance. Comic book fanboys are a tough crowd and Wolverine is one of their most revered icons. You can’t deny their acceptance of Jackman as Logan was no mean feat.

8. Mickey Rourke

Best known as: Marv from Sin City (2005)

The success of Sin City set a darker, grittier tone for comic book-based movies. Rourke’s was one of the rare performances when you completely forget you’re watching an actor and believe instead that Marv has come to life.

7. Julie Newmar

Best known as: Catwoman from the Batman television series (1966-1967)

Catwoman demonstrated how on-screen comic book characters can deliver raw sex appeal. Although two other actresses (Lee Meriwether and Eartha Kitt) shared the role of Catwoman in the Batman series, no one else defined modern “sexy” or filled a catsuit quite like Newmar.

6. Kevin Conroy

Best known as: the voice of Batman / Bruce Wayne from the Batman animated series (1992-1995)

The animated Batman is often held as the best portrayal of the dark knight detective in any medium. Conroy continues to personify Batman from the landmark original animated series through to the Superman (1996-2000), Justice League (2001-2006) and a number of animated films and video games that followed. (I continue to wonder how much Christopher Nolan’s films would improve if they dubbed over Christian Bale’s contrived raspy voice with Conroy’s.) Kevin Conroy is the voice of the Batman.

5. Bruce Lee

Best known as: Kato from the Green Hornet television series (1966)

Lee fired the imaginations of a generation by demonstrating how good a super-hero inspired action sequence could look onscreen. Quick fists and high kicks versus gun-toting goons never looked so damned good. Lee’s smoldering performance as Kato, both masked and unmasked, set him on the path to international superstardom. (Editor’s Note: a purist might argue that the Green Hornet was originally a radio serial, not a comic book, character. Yeah, yeah, smart ass! Lee plays an important enough role for me to bend the rules.)

4. Marlon Brando

Best known as: Jor-El from Superman (1978)

Having an actor of the caliber of Marlon Brando on Superman brought instant credibility to the genre. Brando’s performance was so powerful and unforgettable that they couldn’t make Superman Returns (2006) nearly 30 years later without somehow bringing him back.

3. Lynda Carter

Best known as: Wonder Woman / Diana Prince from the Wonder Woman television series (1975)

No one else filled a costume (or my boyhood dreams) like Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman. Hers remains one of the rare instances where it’s difficult to separate the character from the actor who played her. There is yet to be a modern Wonder Woman TV or film production, though there have been a number of attempts. Could it be because no one else could ever hope to equal Carter’s performance?

2. Robert Downey, Jr.

Best known as: Iron Man / Tony Stark from Iron Man (2008)

Downey delivered one of the performances most beloved by comic book fans and non-fans alike by making the role of Tony Stark his own. Iron Man redefined comic book film-making and cemented Marvel’s dominance of the genre. Yes, Robert. You are Iron Man.

1. Christopher Reeve

Best known as: Superman / Clark Kent from Superman (1978)

No one else made us believe so convincingly that a man could fly. ‘Nuff said.

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