There’s been a lot of fervent debate about whether or not the CGI-heavy compositions and cookie-cutter storytelling of Marvel movies constitute real cinema. But there is one part of Marvel movies that’s undeniably cinematic: the performances. Some of the best actors in the world have brought their A-game to Marvel superhero roles.
Marvel superheroes are defined by the blend of heart, humor, and heroism. From Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark to Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa to Simu Liu as Shang-Chi, many Marvel actors have nailed this balance.SCREENRANT VIDEO OF THE DAY
10 Chris Hemsworth As Thor
Chris Hemsworth didn’t have a lot to do in his first few MCU appearances as Thor, because the filmmakers didn’t quite know how to handle the character. And then Taika Waititi came along with Thor: Ragnarok’s zany sense of humor and turned the God of Thunder into a comedic character. Hemsworth had more fun with the role than ever before and revitalized fans’ interest in the character.
After the full-blown comedy of Ragnarok, the double whammy of Infinity War and Endgame put Thor through the wringer. Hemsworth still nails all the comedic moments in these Avengers sequels, but he also gets the chance to explore more dramatic territory as Thor loses everything and falls into a deep depression.
9 Zoe Saldaña As Gamora
Zoe Saldaña had a lot of complicated emotional baggage to convey with the role of Gamora. She’s reeling from a traumatic childhood in which she was raised by Thanos and forced to fight her sister half to death for his approval.
Saldaña nails all the deadpan comedic moments in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, but she also brings real depth to Gamora’s quest to become a better person (and a better sister).
8 Simu Liu As Shang-Chi
Simu Liu made a stellar MCU debut with the title role in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings last year. He gave a quintessential Marvel hero performance with the pitch-perfect blend of heart, humor, and heroism.
The actor fits the tone of the MCU like a glove, so it’ll be a joy when he’s integrated into the wider ensemble and starts interacting with other Avengers.
7 Patrick Stewart As Professor X
In one of the longest-running superhero stints, Patrick Stewart embodied the role of Charles Xavier beautifully. In the original Fox series, he acted as a warm, loving father figure to the rest of the X-Men.
Stewart always played the role with plenty of pathos, especially in Logan as the most powerful mind in the world came down with dementia. The actor carried Charles’ complicated love-hate relationship with Magneto to the screen, sharing terrific chemistry with Ian McKellen.
6 Chris Evans As Captain America
Chris Evans started out his MCU tenure with limited material in Phase One, playing Cap as a standard goody-two-shoes. When the Russo brothers took over from his second solo movie up to the bitter end, they gave Evans a lot more to chew on.
Over the course of eight years, Evans painted a warm, nuanced, deeply sympathetic portrait of a man out of his time through his struggle to make emotional connections in modern society and his longing for the love he left behind. Evans’ truly lovable, steadfastly good-hearted Steve Rogers is a quintessential hero that fans can look up to.
5 Ryan Reynolds As Deadpool
Ryan Reynolds broke all kinds of R-rated box office records when he spearheaded a much more faithful adaptation of the Merc with a Mouth after his disappointing debut in X-Men Origins: Wolverine with that mouth sewn shut.
The actor managed to translate ‘Pool’s manic, spontaneous, unpredictable energy to the screen. He subtly dials up his body language when he’s wearing the suit. Reynolds always brings maximum effort to the role of Wade Wilson.
4 Tobey Maguire As Spider-Man
From Andrew Garfield’s subversively dark, brooding turn to Tom Holland’s authentic youthful naivety, all three big-screen Spider-Men have given stellar performances in the role.
But Tobey Maguire is still the definitive Peter Parker. Across Sam Raimi’s groundbreaking trilogy, Maguire perfectly captured Spidey’s struggle to lead a double life, his guilt over the death of Uncle Ben, and his unwavering determination to do the right thing.
3 Chadwick Boseman As T’Challa
The title character in Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther is a classical hero for audiences around the world to look up to, like Superman or Luke Skywalker. The Wakandan king’s rise and fall is a modern myth full of valuable life lessons.
The late, great Chadwick Boseman played the role with so much passion and conviction that T’Challa gives audiences something to believe in.
2 Hugh Jackman As Wolverine
Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine quickly took over as the de facto star of the X-Men franchise. The first movie was a straightforward ensemble piece, but the adamantium-clawed Jackman was the breakout character.
Across nearly two decades in the role, Jackman always embodied Wolvie’s ice-cool cynicism. But he also nailed darker traits like his self-loathing and his self-destructive streak. Jackman’s on-screen arc built to the perfect bittersweet send-off in Logan.
1 Robert Downey, Jr. As Iron Man
Nobody could’ve been more perfectly suited to the role of Tony Stark than Robert Downey, Jr. The actor’s iconic performance from Iron Man to Avengers: Endgame can pretty much be credited with the entire success of the MCU.
Tony was the first of many arrogant jerks with a heart of gold, but thanks to Downey’s performance, he’s still the best of the bunch. Downey didn’t play Tony as a one-note archetype; he played him as a flawed, three-dimensional human being.
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Ben Sherlock is a writer, comedian, independent filmmaker, and Burt Reynolds enthusiast. He writes lists for Screen Rant and features and reviews for Game Rant. He's currently in pre-production on his first feature (and has been for a while, because filmmaking is expensive). You can catch him performing standup at odd pubs around the UK that will give him stage time. Previously, he wrote for Taste of Cinema, Comic Book Resources, and BabbleTop.More From Ben Sherlock