Playing Both Sides


Actors who have been in both Marvel and DC movies

The recent shocking news that the casting decision was made to have Oscar Award winner Benjamin Affleck portray DC Comics’s Batman in the upcoming sequel to the Man of Steel summer blockbuster caused quite the uproar. Not only did the strong opinions of the comic book hero fan base immediately start pouring in through all types of social media, but the casting choice also felt like a 180 degree twist from the original announced direction.

DC Comics parent company, Warner Brothers, initially announced a group of names whom they wanted to portray as Bruce Wayne as an older and more experienced hero to counter the younger Henry Cavill. Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Joe Manganiello, Richard Armitage, Max Martini, Matthew Goode were all names tossed around like ping-pong balls in casting rumors. Even with the superhero role experience that some of these names carry, none of them was the one man who’s got pioneering superhero role experience that trail blazed Hollywood for today’s run on comic book movie blockbusters. 2003’s Daredevil, starring Ben Affleck, was one of the trial run films Marvel produced with 20th Century FOX movie studios to see if their fans would embrace their heroes in live action.

Daredevil is a primary component to the heavy polarizing backlash to the news that Ben would be returning to comic book movies in 2015 for “the other team”. Daredevil was a modest hit making $179 million dollars at the box office, but it still received temperate reviews. The critical thrashing that the movie took even soured his experience so bad, he publicly renounced his role in 2006.  So, as Marvel chose to focus on other heroes, a Daredevil movie franchise had to take a step back. According to Affleck,  Marvel and FOX studios approached him with an interest in filming  a reboot to the franchise. His side of the story in an MTV interview last year, suggests that Affleck turned down the opportunity citing that a true reboot wouldn’t work if it still used the same actor as the titular character. So, off to Warner Brothers and DC comics he goes!


Ben Affleck isn’t the first actor to portray two comic book superheroes spanning two rival comic book publishers. Other leading actors and actresses who have been in both Marvel and DC movies are Ryan Reynolds, Tommy Lee Jones, Halle Berry, James Marsden, Ned Beatty, Michael Clarke Duncan, and Laurence Fishburne. However, the list can be expanded with a few more names after giving the qualifications a little more elasticity. Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, and Sir Ian McKellen have also crossed over the Marvel/DC fence.


Ryan Reynolds, up until the Ben Affleck news, was the most controversial casting news. Reynolds film work before becoming a Hollywood leading man type cast him in roles that were very cocky and verbose. After appearing in Marvel’s Blade 3 (2004) as ex-Vampire Hannibal King, it wasn’t that much of a stretch for Ryan to again be tapped to portray another supporting character code named Deadpool in Marvel’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine in 2009. It was quite a critical disappointment for fans to see the movie do such damage to the cult favorite’s origin. It took on a loose interpretation from the source material leaving fans demanding that Deadpool get a reboot with his origin story told “correctly” in a movie franchise of his own. Still, DC Comics saw some future for Ryan Reynolds and cast him in their own cocky willpower-filled hero, Green Lantern. I would also point to this example as to why there were so many outspoken fans against the Ben Affleck casting. With no direct proof, only anecdotal theory, Ryan Reynolds’ Green Lantern movie was also a critical flop deflating DC’s hopes of making a Green Lantern movie franchise a success. Could Ryan’s switch from one disappointing portrayal carry over to another role? The debate rages on through social media with fans even translating it into a hit YouTube video by ‘ItsSomeRandomGuy’ where both Deadpool and Green Lantern fight over Ryan Reynolds.


While most recent trends are to produce comic book films with as much serious production value as possible, staying faithful to the source material, it was a campy Batman Forever (1995) that saw DC comics’ Two-Face’s first run in a motion picture. The one man who could quite possibly deliver a top notch performance of a complex villain with a divided personality is Tommy Lee Jones. Despite the psychological depth that naturally motivates Two-Face, Tommy Lee Jones’ work was stunted and overshadowed by the creative direction that the movie took. But Tommy wasn’t done with comic book movies after that experience. He returned to this genre this time on Marvel’s side. He can be seen as a supporting role character Col. Chester Phillips in Captain America: The First Avenger in 2011. (You can see my review of Captain America here)


Speaking of Captain America, Marvel first sold the rights to the character in 1984 and through production studio changes, the first Captain America film was made in 1990. While the film is currently being discovered by today’s young fans, other generations can instantly recognize the rotund bumbling reporter named Sam Kolawetz.  It is none other than revered comedic actor Ned Beatty. He’s the same actor who was used as Lex Luthor’s henchman Otis in DC’s Superman 1970’s movie franchise.  Without any further scrutiny, I can say that Ned Beatty is the first actor to have both a Marvel and DC comic book movie under his belt.


Sometimes the actor’s finished impact on a comic book hero movie role may be forced upon them by the movie itself. Leading actress Halle Berry has earned herself crossover honors, but critically speaking her movies aren’t listed among the best in the genre. Halle Berry did the best job she could given that her role as the mutant Storm in the Marvel’s X-Men movie franchise wasn’t equal to the weather powers she controlled. Is it her fault that the script called for her to be a supporting team member with campy dialogue? By comparison, however, her role as DC’s Catwoman (2004) was such a blunder, it’s considered one of the two worst comic book movies of all time. Halle Berry’s Catwoman earned it’s critical hardship by choosing a storyline that completely abandons the familiar source material continuity. Would another X-Men casting colleague try to make the jump in movie roles a success for both publishers? Let’s take a look.

Marvel’s X-Men also had James Marsden in the role of the team’s leader Cyclops. Despite the fact that Cyclops’ only reason for existing in the film’s plot was to be the third wheel in a love triangle between other superhero teammates. It was that movie’s director Bryan Singer who was familiar with Marsden, crossed over to DC to direct the ill-fated Superman Returns (2006). But Marsden didn’t get to redeem himself with having a meatier role or any super powers at all. Instead, he was cast as as Richard White, a third wheel to the Lois Lane-Superman love triangle, as a guy just trying to be a good foster dad to Lois Lane’s illegitimate son. This movie too is seen as a critical failure.


There are more actors and actresses who’ve crossed over from Marvel and DC characters. We now have to go back to Marvel’s Daredevil’s main villain who is credited with being the first character who was successfully retroactively changed. Wilson Fisk, aka “The Kingpin”, was always Caucasian. However for the film, the late Michael Clarke Duncan was cast in the role. Despite his large size on screen as the Kingpin, Michael Clarke Duncan can’t be seen anywhere in DC’s Green Lantern. It’s his voice acting talents that Duncan uses to give a truly memorable role as space alien drill instructor Kilowog. The character was mostly made up of CGI, but nonetheless Michael Clarke Duncan’s casting still counts. There was also another actor whose voice talents gives casting credentials for the Marvel and DC movies.


What if I told you… that Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007), the subtitled character is introduced to audiences as a CGI motion picture work of animation while another actor breathes life into him with only his voice? The smooth hypnotic delivery that Laurence Fishburne uses for the intergalactic herald would probably go unnoticed or be forgotten about. In the Man of Steel, Laurence Fishburne also makes his mark in the role of DC’s Perry White. He also is scheduled to reprise the role in the 2015 Man of Steel scheduled sequel.


Another actor whose face time is limited on screen in both DC and Marvel movies is the golden throated Hugo Weaving. Some fans may not realize that he is also credited with being the the title character V for Vendetta underneath the Guy Fawkes mask. The dark avenging V was an obscure title because DC comics had a publishing property called Vertigo where many adult fans could find adult rated material.  It was an obscure title book to be made into a movie, but nonetheless it was a critical success. Hugo also transforms himself into the villain Red Skull in the Captain America 2011 movie. But unfortunately for him, he spent 50% of the movie underneath a blood red prosthetic mask.

Now here is where the list could be expanded on with a little help from a few obscure comic book trivia knowledge.  The Shadow’s literature origins date back farther to independent publishers before Marvel and DC. However, The Shadow did enjoy an intermittent run from 1973 – 1975 and 1986 – 1989. Pulp Fiction hero The Spirit, though not directly integrated with the DC universe was also re-printed by DC Comics in the early turn of the 21st century with further appearances as late as 2007.


If you look closely, you will see listed in the 1994 movie The Shadow, the often confused nuclear scientist working for the war department Reinhardt Lane is none other than Sir Ian McKellen. In his younger days, Sir Ian gives a true powerhouse performance as a supporting character. While he shares the screen in The Shadow, he is more widely known as giving an over the top performance to the X-Men franchise as the arch-villain Magneto.

In The Spirit (2008), we see two Marvel’s Avengers teammates also become allies in Scarlett Johansson and Samuel L. Jackson. It’s quite the peculiar study in role reversals when comparing the two movies.


Scarlett’s portrayal of Black Widow prefers a more hands on approach with her martial arts skills. She’s engaging the bad guys under the command of Sam Jackson’s character Nick Fury. But in The Spirit, she’s cast in the non-action role of Silken Floss. In that role, it’s her looks that are the deadliest. Silken Floss has the movie’s main antagonist, Sam Jackson’s The Octopus, do all the dirty work for her.

While it isn’t known publicly what the editors of both Marvel and DC publishers respectively each think of the way that each studio continue to poach each other’s actors, it stands to be a continuing trend. I don’t foresee many more actors staying loyal to one role or only one movie company. They just see lots of money as both companies are currently making.

One final note: I don’t think I missed anyone when compiling this list, but if you can spot any more actors, however obscure, please leave the names and movie credits in the comments section below.

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