The Marvel Cinematic Universe showcases casting at its finest. The success of the franchise is due in no small part to the amazing talent displayed before the cameras. There are potential Marvel spoilers ahead, but only of the pre-2017 variety.
Good casting can mean the difference between creating an amazing movie or merely one adequate enough to sit through. To understand the latter, look no further than Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.
No fan of our hooded hero was more disappointed than I to learn that Kevin Costner, or perhaps his cardboard cut-out (hard to tell), had been cast in the iconic role. The melodious Brian Bedford portrayed my Robin Hood. So far, only two actors could fill these tights to my satisfaction.
Either one would shine with the dashing demeanor and auriferous vocals required. Costner did not.
Okay, so I’m a Robin Hood dork. Before you shoot me, check out another example of good and bad casting in the same film. Fans of Bram Stoker’s Dracula deserved better than Ted Theodore Logan’s rendition of Jonathan Harker. Fortunately this film more than made up for it by casting Gary Oldman in the title role.
In recent years, two movie franchises based on popular book series were condemned for poor casting. Conversely, Christopher Nolan has made a habit of proving critics wrong with regard to his questionable decisions. As such, it would be remiss of me not to mention the unsung heroes responsible for some of the riskier MCU casting decisions—directors like Jon Favreau and Kenneth Branagh who went to bat for actors whose names alone did not garner the approval of the studio. Bravo, gentlemen. Bravo.
In celebration of those choices, let’s take a look at the top ten MCU castings. Please note, this is the MCU only. Magneto and Deadpool will not make an appearance. (Until we twist enough Fox Studio arms)
10) Black Panther
His presence, his posture, the way he moves when he fights. Chadwick Boseman could easily play this role as a cat caricature. Instead, he embodies the regal grace reflective of this underused hero. I can’t wait to see him in his own movie. Imagine my disappointment when I received the casting call for a character with my description, but in Atlanta, not Las Vegas. Likely the closest I’ll ever come to working on a Marvel set.
9) Black Widow
Not thrilled about this choice at first. I’m a fan of Scarlett Johansson. She has the curves and the chops, but I could not see her as the leggy, super spy assassin. Her moves in Iron Man 2 proved that much like Yoda, size matters not. She displayed both the attitude and athleticism to master this role. In fact, she’d be higher on the list were it not for a few bad grammar moments in Avengers that do not suit her character. Since that movie is nearly perfect, we’ll forgive Whedon for the oversight.
Double whammy for Paul Bettany. It is my understanding that the genius responsible for dropping him into the role of Jarvis did not know he would eventually play Vision. His cadence alone lands him on this list. Adding his subtle facial expressions, his chiseled physique, and unnaturally perfect posture make him the only man I can see as Vision.
Chris Pratt brought the humor necessary to popularize Peter Quill out of obscurity. His remarkable transformation from doughy comic relief to beefcake leading man proved so effective that other media changed his comic book appearance to reflect Pratt’s look in the movie.
A small part played to grand effect. Who else could fill this role with such quiet puissance? Whether banishing Thor with a growl or collapsing before Loki’s broken heart, Odin’s presence empowers every scene.
5) Captain America
I’ll admit to being less than thrilled when I learned that Mr. Flame-on himself was cast as the super soldier. Johnny Storm is no Captain America. Turns out Chris Evans is no slouch when it comes to acting. He was absolutely the right choice, bringing all the bright and shiny purity needed to shed Steve Rogers in a believable and inspiring light.
There is no question why Chris Hemsworth landed this role. How was there ever a choice? The man struck Midgard like a bolt of lightning. How fortunate he could alter his accent to reflect his Norse origins. (And by Norse, I mean the perfect period diction of old English we’ve come to expect from Asgardians.) Nonetheless, he flawlessly embodies the role.
I first watched Thor in a small Utah city after staying at a bed and breakfast. My quaint, romantic trip started as it should, but ended with me racing home, like so many others, to find out “Who is Tom Hiddleston?” He blew me away as the God of Mischief. Each subtle gesture, each nuanced blend of emotions—evoked with minimal expression. Amazing. And perfect for the role. Imagine my surprise when I looked up the actor. How could anyone meet this golden boy scout and picture Iago’s Norse counterpart? This same director recently chose Hiddleston as the lead in my favorite Shakespeare play. More brilliant casting.
2) Tony Stark
Most would expect RDJ to top this list. And while there’s a compelling argument for that, one factor—which I’ll cover in the winner’s segment—prevents his victory. Aside from that, Robert Downey Jr.’s take on the cocky, but brilliant Stark doesn’t feel like much of a stretch. He brings Tony to life in a way that no one else could. He’s essentially playing a smarter, wealthier, more charming version of himself. Much as Tony’s charisma pulled the other heroes into his orbit to build an incredible team, Downey shines as the leader of this remarkable cast to make even more remarkable movies.
While not technically MCU (he’s borrowed from Sony) Spider-Man’s inclusion in Captain America: Civil War lands him as an honorable mention. Tom Holland’s spectacular showing in Civil War, and his own Homecoming are among the best performances that will receive no true critical acclaim. His choice to employ an authentic New York accent, which he pulls off flawlessly, despite hailing from the UK, begs the question, “Why didn’t anyone think of this sooner?” If he’s this good at 20, what’s he going to be like in ten years?
1) Nick Fury
Despite Tony Stark’s perfect casting, how can RDJ top the actor chosen to play himself? In 2001—years before the MCU was a twinkle in Kevin Feige’s eye—comic book writer Mark Millar took the liberty of revisioning Nick Fury as one bad mofo, modeled unapologetically after Sammy himself. Samuel L. Jackson was the only choice for this role.
Click here to see how Jackson responded to Millar’s exploitation.
And, that’s my list. Hope you enjoyed the comparisons. If you think I missed a MCU better casting, please let me know in the comments.