In alphabetical order, they are: Christian Bale. Lynda Carter. Robert Downey Jr. Chris Evans. Chris Hemsworth. Hugh Jackman. Tobey Maguire. And an icon among icons, the late Christopher Reeve.
Christian Bale as Batman:
In short, protraying Batman seems relatively easy. You put on the Batsuit, find your innermost menace, never smile and let the cape and cowl do the talking.
Bale takes it another step by nailing the elusive characterization of Bruce Wayne. His billionaire is emotionally conflicted, somewhat of a brooder and is complicated and charismatic, yet caring and compassionate.
The handsome and incredibly talented actor’s take on his challenging dual role looks easy, to the point of being obvious: To make the audience care about the Dark Knight, we have to care about the man behind the cowl also.
By "The Dark Knight Rises," we see how much of a physical and emotional toil it is for Wayne being "the hero Gotham deserves." Using an American accent at times during press interviews proves just how much respect and commitment the Welsh actor has for the complex character.
Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman:Spinning in a circle to become the world’s most prominent superheroine never looked so cool and probably never will. Additionally, her Wonder Woman is as tough as she is compassionate – just what every superhero (or superheroine, in this case) should be.
How do you know Carter’s Wonder Woman is an icon? Every conversation about the Amazonian princess mentions the brunette beauty’s work in the 1975-1979 TV series.
Just as it is with Reeve’s connection with Superman, it’s hard to not talk about Carter when talking about Wonder Woman. That’s just how well both performers nailed their roles.
Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man:Soon after I saw the first “Iron Man,” its star, Downey, quickly proved to me he deserved to be included in this small, yet prestigious, list of the best casting for a superhero role. The grand time I have watching “Iron Man” has a lot to do with Downey.
In 1989, Michael “Mr. Mom” Keaton showed anybody can pull on a cowl to be a convincing crimefighter, but it takes a special actor to do justice to the alter-ego. Despite being a brooding Batman, Keaton wasn’t an entirely convincing Bruce Wayne. Fans, on the other hand, have had nothing but praise for Downey’s Tony Stark.
Downey virtually owns the role: Stark’s arrogance (“That’s not bad,” to being called “the ‘Merchant of Death’”), his passion for the bottle (“It would be irresponsible not to drink,” when his best friend is attempting to give him a tongue-lashing), the womanizing, etc.
In the first "Iron Man," there are laugh-out loud moments when Stark chastises one of his helper robots for using a fire extinguisher unnecessarily while the industrialist tests the improvements to his Iron Man armor. Movie directors and screenplay writers have taken advantage of Downey's wacky personality to make Stark even more eccentric.
Stark sounds convincing when he returns to America from being a terrorist kidnapping victim in Afghanistan to abruptly announce Stark Industries will close its weapon manufacturing operations. Just as Reeve made audiences believe a man could fly, Downey’s Stark is believable in wanting to fight terrorists armed with his creations.
Downey's take on Stark/Iron Man has transcended to the way the character is being written in the comic books. The actor's snarkiness and biting/sarcastic sense of humor also has made its way into the animated version of Stark/Iron Man.
Credit goes to Downey and surprising success of Marvel Studios' first film that the Armored Avenger has joined the A-list of the world's most easily recognizable superheroes.
Chris Evans as Captain America:Fans first became acqauinted with Evans as Johnny Storm/The Human Torch in the two “Fantastic Four” films. For me, the challenge was if Evans, who was perfect as the arrogant, womanizing Storm, could convey the sincerity and genuineness of Steve Rogers. In short, yes.
Evans’ Cap is as down to earth and earnest as Storm is cocky and full of himself – everything the Captain America/Steve Rogers character should be.
As Cap/Rogers, Evans oozes sincerity and much like "The First Avenger," it's easy to believe Evans' Cap/Rogers is a good man, one who will do what's right even though it might be difficult for a person with much less character to do. In short, Evans' "aw shucks" offscreen personality is perfect for Cap who sees himself as a simple guy from Brooklyn.
But don't let the nice-guy thing fool you.
Captain America is America's Super Soldier and has earned the nickname "the Living Legend" for a reason: Cap is a serious badass.
He's the greatest fighter in the Marvel Comics universe — an efficient fighting machine who isn't afraid to jump into a fight or go all super-secret agent ninja-like to take down multiple foes (as seen in "Captain America: The Winter Soldier") or even go one-on-one with a god (as he did with Loki briefly in "The Avengers.") Cap was equally outmatched against Ultron in a one-on-on fight in "Avengers: Age of Ultron" -- but like his fight with Loki -- it essentially ended in a draw.
Chris Hemsworth as Thor:Unknown before being cast as the Norse God of Thunder, Hemsworth brings a rock star-like charisma to Thor. From the first time he's onscreen in the original "Thor," Hemsworth owns the role and the camera loves him.
Hemsworth, at close to 6'3" and with forearms as big as my upper legs, is one big dude. Being as dedicated as Evans is to working out for his superhero role, the Aussie's Thor is the kind of masculine mountain man we've come to expect.
Just as in the comics, the onscreen Thor is ready for action. Each of the sequences featuring the Norse God versus Iron Man in "The Avengers" is every Marvel fan's dream-come-true. Thor even got to scrap a bit with Ultron; naturally I wanted to see the big guy really let loose on the big nasty robot.
Hemsworth's Thor doesn't just look great armed with Mjolnir.
He is equally compassionate and dedicated to his family – even his hard-to-trust half-brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston, who somehow has become just as popular with female fans as Hemsworth). Hemsworth is completely plausible playing a brother to Hiddleston's Loki; their back-and-forth banter and disagreement in "Thor: The Dark World" is a great example of how the two actors play off and complement each other.
In many ways, if Hemsworth couldn't sell his chemistry with Hiddleston, not only would the Thor-Loki relationship fall apart, so would the "Thor" films -- not to mention how believable the big guy is as the Norse god of thunder.
Hugh Jackman as Wolverine:The casting didn’t seem to make sense at first.
After all, the Australian actor had won two awards for best male in a musical for playing Curly in the Royal National Theatre’s production of “Oklahoma!” two years before the first “X-Men” movie.
Heck, Jackman wasn't even the first choice to play Wolverine. He was a last-minute replacement for Dougray Scott, who couldn’t play Logan in the original "X-Men" movie due to additional filming for “Mission: Impossible II.”
But fans knew the right man had been cast as soon as Jackman, who is one foot taller than the comics character, arched his eyebrow, flexed his muscles and chomped on Wolverine’s (what should be his ever-present) cigar. His portrayal made the feisty Canadian mutant a runaway fan-favorite in the “X-Men” trilogy and truthfully, the entire franchise.
As perfect as Jackman's Wolverine is, I've always wanted to see Logan do even more cigar-chompin' and calling people "bub." On the other hand, credit goes to all-around nice-guy Jackman for making such a loner and scrapper highly sympathetic and the highlight of every "X-Men" film.
Let's also not forget Jackman's dedication to being as jacked up as possible for each and every time he plays Wolverine.
Somehow, the Aussie has found the Fountain of Youth. How does Jackman's Wolverine look better and more ripped the older he gets? Dedication, diet, a strict work-out regime -- and as Jackman has told the media many, many times, eating waaaay too much chicken.
With “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” Jackman tied Reeve with playing the same superhero four times. By the time he calls it quits, he will have played Logan a whopping nine times.
For some reason, the directors of the "Origins" and "The Wolverine" have struggled in getting Wolverine's solo stories quite right (which CCC contributor and best friend David Hudson and I attribute to Logan being at his best in a team context). Regardless, there's no doubt Jackman nails the heart of the complex character every single time.
Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man:Peter Parker’s Coke bottle-sized glasses and nerdy demeanor look as perfect on Maguire as he does in Spider-Man’s classic costume. Much like Bale's Batman, it's Maguire's performance as Parker that gets us rooting for Spidey.
This movie version of Spidey and his alter-ego stays incredibly close to the comic book version — the hero who struggles to to keep his personal life together as much as much as he struggles to overcome the bad guys. Audiences wouldn't see that if it weren't for Maguire.
As I said in my recent "great superhero reboot debate" op-ed, Maguire delivers a very human Parker (and in turn, an equally relatable Spider-Man), a man who knows and lives by the wisdom he got from his Uncle Ben — that with great power comes great responsibility. Parker might not always get it right, but you can't help root for Marvel's ultimate everyman.
And finally, the actor who started it all with perfect superhero casting …!
In his day, Reeve was every bit the mountain man as Hemsworth's Thor. No padded muscle suits needed here, folks; all of that under the Superman costume was the real McCoy.
Reeve also gave the hero poise — literally. You can see his klutzy Clark Kent begin to transform into Superman as his crystal blue eyes focus and he stands taller at the first sign of danger.
Reeve put such an iconic and spot-on stamp on Superman, even subsequent comic-book incarnations have paled in comparison. That, my fellow fans, is called putting a definitive stamp on a character.