Welcome to Debate Club, where Tim Grierson and Will Leitch, the hosts of the Grierson & Leitch podcast, tackle the greatest arguments in pop culture.
On Friday, Chris Evans (presumably) ends an eight-year run as Captain America, who has been one of Marvel's biggest attractions since he made his debut in The First Avenger. Initially, Evans was reluctant to sign on to such a major franchise undertaking, scared at the prospect of a nine-movie deal. ("It's nuts," he said in 2016. "If you make a big movie like Independence Day, they'll lock you up for three movies. But nine is insane. We got it down to six.")
He's proven to be a terrific Steve Rogers — heroic and decent but also slyly funny — but what about the rest of his résumé? How does Evans' non-Cap career shape up? For this week's Debate Club, we pick his five finest roles that aren't the All-American superhero.
Fantastic Four (2005)
Yep, Evans was a part of a Marvel comic book franchise before Captain America. After sitting through Fantastic Four, it's a wonder he didn't beg off playing Cap on general principle. Actually, an argument could be made that the Tim Story movie was more successful than Josh Trank's infamous disaster from a few years ago; they did, after all, make a sequel of this iteration.
Evans is better at playing stoic and decent than "rebellious and cocky," so he makes a much better Steve Rogers than Human Torch. But hey, Fantastic Four is still a Marvel franchise: Who's up for a spinoff movie? (Just kidding, we promise.)
The Iceman (2012)
This well-cast real-life hit man movie never quite congeals the way you want it to, but Evans is a standout as Mr. Freezy, a soulless rival/partner assassin to Michael Shannon's title character. Mr. Freezy is a professional in his field, but he keeps being overtaken by the darkness of his job, and Evans is so good in the role that he scares you more than Shannon does — no small feat.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
Evans isn't the type of douche-bro actor he plays in Scott Pilgrim, but he definitely looks like he might be, which makes him perfect to play evil ex Lucas Lee. He's a movie star that Pilgrim's true love dated in the ninth grade, and he skateboards and attacks with his stunt doubles. Evans was more in on the joke in some of his early movies than most realized; Scott Pilgrim made it clear, and obvious, and hilarious.
Released about a month after Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, this Danny Boyle sci-fi drama was more 2001 than Star Wars, painting a bleak scenario in which a team of scientists embarks on a one-way trip to the sun in the hopes of reigniting it. (If they fail, humanity is doomed. If they succeed, well, this crew will still not be making it back to Earth.)
Sunshine is a meditative treatise on life, death and the mystery of existence, and Evans is part of a sharp ensemble, which includes Rose Byrne, Cillian Murphy, and Michelle Yeoh. The movie wasn't a box office sensation, but it's subsequently earned its cult status, sitting alongside other recent smart indie sci-fi gems like Under the Skin, Ex Machina and High Life.
Evans was a red-carpet draw by the time Snowpiercer hit U.S. theaters in the summer of 2014 (Captain America: The Winter Soldier had opened just a few months earlier). And no doubt his clout helped bring audiences to this challenging post-apocalyptic drama, courtesy of The Host filmmaker Bong Joon-Ho, in which a high-powered train carries what's left of society after a cataclysmic new ice age hits.
Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, and Ed Harris fill out the cast, but it's Evans who's really the hero, playing Curtis, who leads the train's poorest passengers in a violent rebellion against their cruel overlords. Mixing action and social commentary, Snowpiercer is the sort of risky, counterprogramming option that studios put up against the blockbusters — you know, the Avengers of the world — and Evans conveys real grit and depth, not to mention a little old-fashioned star power.