As comic book fans, we can be, well...a passionate lot. Sometimes, that's good, like when we call upon comic book artists and publishers for change for the better, more progressive, interesting storylines, for a more open, inclusive universes.
But when it comes to casting decisions, occasionally, that passion curdles and turns into (let's be honest), a lot of keyboard smashing, such as when Ben Affleck and Gal Godot were cast in [Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice](movie:711870) or Michael B. Jordan was cast as Johnny Storm/The Human Torch in Fox's upcoming [The Fantastic Four](movie:34667).
Fans are still raging about Jordan's casting, with most afraid that changing the character's origin will ruin the character, and that Jordan, while a fine actor, is absolutely not the right person for the role (for what it's worth, I think he'll do an incredible job as Johnny Storm). Yet, we always seem to forget how often we've been proven wrong in our doubts.
So I thought I'd take a look back at some controversial comic book movie castings that had fans in an uproar...but later grew to be fan-favorites, if not outright iconic performances.
1.) Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man
Can you imagine anyone else playing Tony Stark/Iron Man? I can't. And I work in a business in which recastings, remakes, and changes are inevitable. But even I have a hard time envisioning any other actor alive now who could capture Tony Stark's blend of swagger, snark, and sometimes crippling vulnerability the way RDJ does.
But back when Marvel was searching for its Iron Man, Robert Downey, Jr. was NOT at the top of their list, or anyone's list, in the process of repairing his wrecked career and still largely persona non grata in most Hollywood circles. Hitch their billion dollar cart to Downey, Jr's perpetually substance-abusing horse? No. No way.
But director Jon Favreau fought tooth and nail to get RDJ in for an audition and then to land the role, and it's a good thing Marvel listened, because you could make the case that the framework of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe has been built upon the back of Iron Man, and, subsequently, Robert Downey, Jr. himself.
2.) Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker/Spider-Man
When the news came that Sony was planning to entirely reboot the Spider-Man franchise with a new origin story and a new actor, fans went, "...Why? Didn't we just do this? WTF?"
But then newly-cast Andrew Garfield surprised everyone by showing up at San Diego Comic-Con a few months later and giving a speech to fans, explaining how much the role meant to him with a voice that shook with emotion the entire time he spoke. And that was it. We were in.
Say what you want about the state of Sony's Amazing Spider-Man franchise, but all of the good and none of the bad rests squarely on Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker/Spider-Man. The worst criticism that people can lob at him is that he's "too cool" as Peter Parker (I'd argue those people have never read the newest iterations of Peter Parker if they think that), but that as Spidey, he's perfect, full of the sarcastic smack-talking that Tobey Maguire's version lacked.
And most fans now, while they desperately want Marvel to regain the movie rights to Spider-Man, agree that it should only be if Garfield comes along in the package deal. Pretty — amazing (see what I did there?) — that fans have come full-circle in going from "the British kid from The Social Network?" to internet chaining ourselves to Garfield and refusing to move unless Marvel lets him come play, too.
3.) Heath Ledger as The Joker
It might surprise some to learn of this, but back when Heath Ledger was cast as The Joker in The Dark Knight back in 2007, most long-time Batman fans weren't thrilled with the idea. Unsurprisingly, fans were unhappy that the guy from controversial gay cowboy movie Brokeback Mountain was now playing one of pop culture's most iconic villains. The backlash ranged from "he's just a pretty boy" at best to, well...you can imagine what much of the backlash contained. Even former Joker actor, Jack Nicholson, was admittedly "furious" over the casting.
And now, Ledger's portrayal of the Joker is arguably the most iconic performance ever in a comic book movie role, and one of the most iconic ever, period. He has, so far, been the only actor or actress to ever win an acting Oscar for work in a comic book movie (Best Supporting Actor, 2008), and that wasn't just a pity nod to the posthumous Ledger.
No one foresaw the depths of talent Ledger had hidden within (except for the casting agents), the darkness he would tap into for the role, the unpredictable way every single line seemed to be pulled out of thin air and spoken off the top of his head, speaking to the psychotic unpredictability of the character.
His performance was legendary in every way, but if fans had had their way, he never would have gotten close to the role. Thankfully, Christopher Nolan and his crew made the right call.
4.) Hugh Jackman as Logan/Wolverine
Granted, Hugh Jackman's casting as Logan/Wolverine in the original X-Men movie wasn't that controversial. But it was only not controversial because, well, no one even knew who he was, or enough about the Australian actor to even be mad about the casting. Simply put, he was a complete no-name to American audiences before landing the role.
And he wasn't even supposed to be in the role in the first place, stepping in at the last minute as a replacement for the already-signed Dougray Scott when Scott backed out to accept the villainous role in Mission: Impossible II.
Now, Hugh Jackman is not just part of the X-Men franchise, he IS the X-Men franchise. The glue that holds everything together, he's been playing Wolverine for longer than some of you reading this have been alive.
Wolverine is Jackman and Jackman is Wolverine, and no one realizes that better than Jackman himself, who has only ever been thankful for the breakout role that allowed him to become an iconic hero to an entire generation of new comic book movie fans. A time will come when he'll have to step down from the role, but until then, he's our Wolverine for life.
5.) Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne/Batman
When Tim Burton announced that Michael Keaton would play Bruce Wayne/Batman in his 1989 Batman film that started it all, fans' reactions ranged from "That's...weird" to "WHAT?!" Keaton had only ever been known as a comedic actor, and most audiences, at that time, couldn't separate him from his other iconic role of Betelgeuse in the previous year's Beetlejuice.
But Burton obviously saw something in his "ghost with the most" that audiences hadn't yet seen in the actor, and he was right. Keaton not only held his own on the screen playing opposite the legendary, scene-stealing Jack Nicholson, he managed to make the role his own.
We've been through many, many iterations of Batman with half a dozen different actors tackling the role, but many fans agree that Keaton was the best ever, the only actor to be both a great Bruce Wayne and a great Batman.
In fact, so secure is Keaton in his legendary status that when he was recently asked if he, much like Christian Bale, was ever insecure to see another actor cast in the role, he responded
No. Do you know why? Because I'm Batman.
That sound you hear is the sound of every mic drop ever.
Bonus: Chris Pratt as Star-Lord
Is there anyone alive right now who doesn't completely love Chris Pratt? If you raised your hand, I question your judgment. The actor is everywhere lately, and while fans were a little confused when Pratt got cast in Marvel's weird-sounding [Guardians of the Galaxy](movie:424073), many didn't know enough about it to care one way or the other, but they knew they liked Pratt from his role of Andy Dwyer on [Parks and Recreation](series:214218). If anything, at least he'd bring some fun to the role.
But there was one person who was dead-set against having Pratt read for the role...and it was director James Gunn himself. At the press junket for the film held earlier this summer, Gunn admitted he did not see Pratt in the role at all, and kept refusing to see him read, thinking him wrong for the part. In fact, he was angry at casting director Sarah Finn when she snuck Pratt in for a reading.
He quickly changed his mind, recalling
[At first] I was just like, “The chubby guy from Parks and Rec?!
But then Chris came in and he started to read and this is 100% true, that within 20 seconds of him starting to read I was just like, “Holy SHIT! That’s the guy...Chubby or not, he’s the guy. The world’s gonna have to be ready for the first chubby superhero, because he’s STILL going to be better than all the other people we had.
And now, look at where we are. Fans everywhere know that
And he's Star-Lord through and through, legendary outlaw, rogue of the galaxy, and huge Kevin Bacon fan.
The bottom line is, casting agents do this for a living. They don't just pick names out of a hat. Yes, most studios have short lists, but they go through dozens, sometimes DOZENS and dozens of actors and actresses for these roles before settling upon the one they feel is "their" guy. For the most part, they haven't gone wrong yet.
So maybe, instead of getting up in arms about "controversial" castings, like Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm/The Human Torch, we should take a breath and remember that some of the castings fans have hated most have turned into the most iconic superhero performances in our lifetime.