8 controversial comic book movie castings that actually worked

Contributed by
Dec 15, 2012

We comic book fans can be hard to please. When it comes to adapting our favorite characters to the big screen, we're picky. And some of us are sometimes obnoxiously so. It's rare that any actor can escape the wrath of fan criticism—and Laurence Fishburne is but the latest example of that.

Luckily, directors and studios don't listen to every fan gripe, because if they had, we'd have missed out on some great and even iconic performances.

Here are eight controversial comic book castings that (despite some reservations) worked out for the best.

Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne/Batman

Mr. Mom? Sure. Beetlejuice? Hilarious. Batman? WHAT? That was the general reaction when Tim Burton announced that Michael Keaton would play Batman in his 1989 film.

Fans were so disturbed by his choice that they flooded Warner Bros.' offices with over 50,000 letters protesting the decision. One person even wrote to the Los Angeles Times saying, "By casting a clown, Warner Bros. and Burton have defecated on the history of Batman." (Well, that was mean!)

After Batman's release, Keaton's performance softened some of the hardest hearts, which earned him enough fanboy cred for a sequel. He may not have been the physical embodiment of what viewers expected, but he got the job done.

Heath Ledger as the Joker

When Heath Ledger was cast as the Joker in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight, people were confused. At the time, he was riding a wave of critical success (including an Oscar nomination) for his role in Brokeback Mountain, but readers didn't think he was edgy enough for the Joker.

When the casting news broke, one fan responded with "I like Ledger but I'm not sure if he can pull off the sinister Joker," while another said, "Seems like an awful choice for what was a very promising character." With his Oscar win and the film's billion-dollar box office performance, we think it's fair to say they were both wrong!

Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man

Downey has always been talented, but prior to 2007 he wasn't the most dependable actor in Hollywood. Therefore, when Jon Favreau chose him to play the title character in Iron Man, a lot of us were skeptical. Some fans of the comic book character had a visceral reaction to his casting.

"What a horrible choice," one fan wrote. "What is he, like 50? Maybe 15 years ago when he wasn't phoning it in. Seriously, could you ever have imagine Robert Downey Jr. in the Iron Man armor hanging with Captain America?" Fast forward four years, two solo films and an impending Avengers movie later, the naysayers have all eaten their fair share of crow.

Idris Elba as Heimdall

When Idris Elba was cast as Heimdall in Thor, folks were up in arms. In the comics, the character is drawn as white, but in the film he's played by Elba, who's of African descent. Even though there were protests and a website petitioning his casting, the actor didn't let it dampen his spirits. He responded to the uproar by putting the character in its proper, mystical perspective.

He said, "There has been a big debate about it: Can a black man play a Nordic character? Hang about, Thor's mythical, right? Thor has a hammer that flies to him when he clicks his fingers. That's OK, but the color of my skin is wrong?" He has a point. In the long run, none of those Nordic hangups hindered his performance or the film's reception.

Michael Clarke Duncan as Wilson Fisk/Kingpin

Before there was Idris Elba's Thor debate, there was Michael Clarke Duncan in Daredevil. The Marvel villain Kingpin was always seen as white, bald, tall and stocky. With the exception of Clarke's race, he embodied everything about the character, but that just wasn't enough for some.

On a message board, one fan candidly wrote, "When I told my friend that Duncan was playing Kingpin He cried out (and I quote): 'Kingpin's not Black!!' Despite the challenges from the public, Duncan's performance was one of the few tolerable parts of Daredevil. In hindsight, his interpretation of the Kingpin was the least of the film's problems.

Edward Norton as Bruce Banner/The Hulk

Edward Norton is the thinking man's actor. In films, he's believable as doctors, lawyers and scientists, which is great for a character like Bruce Banner. But Norton wasn't known for headlining blockbuster films, especially in the comic book genre. His casting in The Incredible Hulk was welcomed but questioned.

On, a reader responded to the news with "I am a huge fan of Ed Norton but if I am honest this news drew a single reaction from me, total miscast." As usual, the actor stuck to his guns and delivered a genuine, almost vintage Banner performance. In return, fans liked him so much that they were destroyed when it was announced that he wouldn't reprise the role for 2012's The Avengers.

Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America

Chris Evans will always be Johnny Storm aka the Human Torch. That's what most of us thought when he was cast as Captain America. He's great at playing young, fun, witty and slightly arrogant, but that's not Steve Rogers. Rogers is a sensitive, old-fashioned Brooklyn boy.

On, one commenter explained, "There is no LOGICAL reasoning why ANYONE would think Evans is good for the part. He is known for being a clown and can't be taken seriously as Captain America." With criticisms like that, Evans knew he had to work extra hard to prove himself, and judging from the positive audience reception—he did.

Hugh Jackman as Logan/Wolverine

Hugh Jackman's casting wasn't as controversial as it was a gamble. Scottish actor Dougray Scott was originally hired to play Wolverine in X-Men but had to drop out at the last minute. In a wicked twist of fate, Jackman, who had auditioned for the role 10 months earlier, was called in as a replacement. In an interview with CNN, the actor referred to the whole experience as "The longest audition in history."

Fox and director Bryan Singer put the future of the X-Men franchise in the hands of an unknown actor who was mostly famous in his native Australia for musicals. His resume didn't exactly scream "Wolverine." But thankfully, Singer turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to critics and stepped out on faith. The rest, as you know, is blockbuster history.