Marvel Comics and DC Comics are supposed to be an either-or proposition among comic book and movie fans. You’re either a Marvel lover or DC supporter, though the truth is that plenty of geeks love both companies, the comic books they produce and the blockbuster film franchises inspired by those properties.
The idea of actors playing roles in Marvel movies and DC films is also a curiosity among fans. Should you be allowed to do both? Those universes are totally separate, and to cross over is to somehow mess with the space-time continuum, rip open a hole in our existence, or something dramatic like that. However, that hasn’t separated some stars from eagerly taking big roles in both cinematic worlds. The most celebrated example might be Ben Affleck, who’s playing Batman after having portrayed Daredevil more than 10 years ago. Most recently, J.K. Simmons was tabbed to play Batman’s Commissioner Gordon following his previous role as Spider-Man’s J. Jonah Jameson.
But plenty of other actors have planted feet in both Marvel and DC films. Which of them have done the best work and played the most memorable roles? We’re here to rank them. Oh, and we’re talking about movies only, so actors like Morena Baccarin (Gotham, Deadpool) and Michael Chiklis (Fantastic Four, Gotham) aren’t listed here. And while Brandon Routh (Superman, The Atom) and Jeffrey Dean Morgan (The Comedian in Watchmen and Bruce Wayne’s father in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) have been in multiple comic-book films, those were all DC movies.
Got it? OK, those are the rules. Here are our rankings:
20. Tao Okamato
The Japanese actress and model made her film debut playing Hugh Jackman’s love interest in The Wolverine. She was somewhat wooden (as might be expected), but relatively convincing as worth saving from ninjas and samurai robots. Okamato will play Lex Luthor’s loyal assistant Mercy Graves in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
19. Djimon Hounsou
Hounsou hasn’t had big roles in Marvel or DC comic book movies, but his appearances have been memorable. In Constantine, he played witch doctor Papa Midnite, which is a great name for a character. Plus, he got to wear a sweet velvet suit and trilby hat. But in Guardians of the Galaxy, Hounsou had two of the movie’s most memorable lines as Korath, asking “Who?” when Peter Quill introduced him as Star-Lord and later addressing Quill as Star-Lord, which brings the hero joy.
18. Josh Brolin
Did you see 2010’s Jonah Hex? No, neither did we. DC Comics’ scarred cowboy bounty hunter deserved a far better movie. But Brolin is also Thanos, the big, overarching bad guy in the Avengers movies and Guardians of the Galaxy. Because those appearances were brief, Brolin isn’t high on this list. But if and when he becomes the main villain of the Avengers: Infinity War films (scheduled for 2018 and 2019), he should get a boost upward. (Brolin was also in the running to play Batman before losing out to Ben Affleck, and probably would have been very good in that role.)
17. Laurence Fishburne
In 2007’s Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Fishburne lent his voice and a noble dignity to Marvel Comics’ somber galactic wanderer. But he was just the voice. As Perry White, editor of the Daily Planet and Lois Lane’s boss in Man of Steel, Fishburne plays one of the most important supporting characters in the Superman mythos. At the end of the movie, White gives Clark Kent a job when he seemingly has no newspaper experience whatsoever. Maybe he’ll get a bit more to do in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
16. Sam Elliott
If you forgot about 2007’s Ghost Rider, no one would fault you. But Elliott was in that film as Caretaker, who trains Nicolas Cage’s Johnny Blaze on how to control his seething inner demon (and the Ghost Rider predecessor). He was far more memorable as General “Thunderbolt” Ross in Ang Lee’s 2003 Hulk, playing a top military man and overprotective father with serious rage issues. (He also had one of the best lines ever in a comic book movie, threatening to relegate Bruce Banner to a lab where he’ll “figure out the next generation of herbal hair gel.”)
[Editor’s Note: It was pointed out in the comments that Ghost Rider and Hulk are both Marvel films. Oops. Maybe we should have put Terence Stamp here, who played General Zod in Superman II and Stick in Elektra.]
15. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje
Unfortunately for Akinnuoye-Agbaje, he’s almost entirely covered up by make-up and costuming in his two comic-book movie roles. In Thor: The Dark World, he plays Kurse, one of the villain’s main henchman whose face is eventually entirely obscured by an armored helmet that makes him look like an evil warthog on steroids. In Suicide Squad, he’s unrecognizable underneath prosthetics as Killer Croc, a human-crocodile hybrid that eats animals whole. (Hopefully, he ends up fighting Batman, since he’s one of the Caped Crusader’s best adversaries.)
14. Zoe Saldana
The Losers is based on a DC/Vertigo comic book, but feels like sort of a stretch to include here. (Nonetheless, we’ll be referencing it again.) Saldana plays the femme fatale who seduces the leader of a black ops team into taking down the man who killed her father. And she looks bad-ass firing a rocket launcher. But her role as Gamora in Guardians of the Galaxy is much more prominent, one of the band of renegades seeking revenge on her father, Thanos, in hopes of saving the universe from destruction. She’s also one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s sole female heroes, which should be notable.
13. Michael Fassbender
Fassbender was a bad guy in Jonah Hex, but not the bad guy, playing the right-hand man to John Malkovich and looking great wearing a bowler hat. But as Magneto in the rebooted X-Men films, he plays one of the great comic-book bad guys. His younger version of the character is far angrier and more charismatic than Ian McKellen’s older incarnation. You can feel his rage toward humans who oppress mutants, in addition to understanding how he could recruit people to his cause.
12. Halle Berry
Berry deserves credit for headlining a movie as a female action hero. Unfortunately, that film is 2004’s Catwoman, widely considered one of the worst superhero movies ever. She wore a far less ridiculous costume as Storm in four X-Men films, portraying a foundational member of the mutant superhero team and arguably one of its most powerful. Her hairstyles (wigs) even got better with each successful film in the saga. But she was also saddled with that “You know what happens when a toad gets struck by lightning?” groaner in the first X-Men movie.
11. Hugo Weaving
Weaving’s face is never seen in V For Vendetta, in which he plays an anarchist freedom fighter (and replaced James Purefoy in the role) who tries to spark a revolution against an oppressive British regime. As the Red Skull in 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger, he plays Cap’s arch-enemy and one of the Marvel Comics’ greatest villains. Curiously, he hasn’t been in a Marvel movie since, but that’s because he reportedly doesn’t want to play the character again. That’s a shame, even though the Red Skull hasn’t really been missed in the subsequent Captain America and Avengers films.