DC’s fledgling superhero franchise is only now getting off the ground. Even so, they’ve been putting out films for decades, each to a varying degree of success. Their scale of quality goes from the bad (Green Lantern) to the iconic (The Dark Knight), with a whole lot in between.
Throughout the years, DC movies have only really managed to succeed within the Batman and Superman wheelhouses, and even then, they’ve stumbled frequently. That’s not to say there aren’t some truly great performances within the franchise. Christopher Reeve will always be the Superman, and Heath Ledger’s Joker may very well be the best performance we’ve ever seen in a comic book film.
But where there are ups, there are bound to be downs. Really it’s a numbers game more than anything; if you’re going to put out 30-plus years worth of movies, odds are you’ll make some bad calls in the casting department somewhere along the way. These are DC’s 12 worst casting mistakes.
1. Tommy Lee Jones, Batman Forever
There’s plenty of blame to go around here, and to be fair, not all of it belongs at the feet of Tommy Lee Jones. When you take a world class actor, give him hokey dialogue, some terrible direction, and dress him up like a Vegas magician, you’re just asking for trouble.
All in all, Batman Forever was a perfect storm of awful, and unfortunately Jones got caught right in the thick of it all as Two-Face. He, at least, has a career’s worth of superior performances to fall back on, so ultimately it’s a happy ending for him.
2. Megan Fox, Jonah Hex
Jonah Hex was a disaster of a movie in every facet for Warner Bros. It tanked at the box office to the tune of $10 million on a $47 million budget, while mustering just a 12% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It was really a shame, given the crazy-cool source material for the film.
The Jonah Hex comics give us a character who grew up abused and sold into slavery, was twice left for dead, and then enlisted in the Civil War. A film adaptation had no shortage of potential for commenting on race and violence in the Old West, but instead … well, we got this.
This is made that much more disappointing by the fact that the movie wasted an incredible cast, composed of Josh Brolin, John Malkovich, Michael Fassbender, Michael Shannon, and Will Arnett. Curiously included was Megan Fox, who was cast as a gun-slinging prostitute with a heart of gold. It was a character who felt all too out of place in an already bad story, marking Fox’s first attempt at distancing herself from the persona of “that girl in the Transformers movie.”
Fox has since found her wheelhouse in comedy, having just wrapped up a successful run on FOX’s New Girl, but lest we not forget, she’d have never arrived in that place without first realizing that action movies aren’t the place for her acting ability.
3. Brandon Routh, Superman Returns
Superman Returns arrived at an odd time for comic book movies. The X-Men franchise was already three movies deep, and Iron Man was still two years away. Meanwhile, in the DC Universe, Warner Bros. was fresh off of the success of Batman Begins, and feeling just feisty enough, they dusted off the Man of Steel to make the first new Superman movie since 1987.
Why had it been so long though? Namely because 1987’s Superman IV: The Quest for Peace was (and still is) widely regarded as one of the worst superhero movies of all time. It was a film so bad that Warner Bros. gave up on Superman entirely for almost two decades, before they felt like they’d washed off enough of the shame to bring him back for a full-on reboot.
This brings us to Superman Returns, starring Brandon Routh as our titular hero. Don’t let the bright blue and ’80s style of the costume fool you, this film was released in 2006 (just one year after Batman Begins). Routh, while not a bad actor per se, was simply the wrong man in the wrong movie. He’s since found his place in the DC universe though, having locked himself in as a series regular on The CW’s Legends of Tomorrow.
Superman was rebooted again in 2013 with Henry Cavill, who now represents the long-term future of the character. And despite the relative failings of both Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, it’s clear that DC has finally found their man.
4. Jesse Eisenberg, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Of all the criticism for Batman v Superman we’ve seen (and issued) since its release, its relative strength can be found in some strong performances. Henry Cavill is the best Superman we’ve seen since Christopher Reeve left the role (Tom Welling in Smallville excluded), and Ben Affleck was surprisingly effective as Batman. Even a sleepwalking Jeremy Irons seemed well-suited for the film as Alfred Pennyworth, rounding out a solid cast for a decidedly average movie. The performance that stood out as both the strangest and most controversial though was that of Jesse Eisenberg.
Have you ever wanted a stuttering tech bro Lex Luthor who likes to leave jars of pee on the desks of U.S. Senators? If your answer was “yes” to that question, then you probably loved BvS. For the rest of us, Eisenberg’s jittery performance was a peculiar choice. As Grunge aptly noted:
Eisenberg made it impossible for audiences to work up a sweat about him on any level whatsoever. We can’t fear him, we can’t relate to him, and we can’t even laugh with him. All we can do is patiently wait for the movie to end and pray that Justice League Part One finds itself a more unpredictable or interesting villain.
There’s a good chance we haven’t seen the last of Lex Luthor in the DC Expanded Universe, but for now, we’ll be mercifully spared until further notice.
5. Shaquille O’Neal, Steel
If The Quest for Peace effectively shuttered the Superman franchise, 1997’s Steel slammed the DC door entirely. It was a film so bad that Warner Bros. shied away from superhero cinema entirely until Batman Begins in 2005. The film also wasn’t helped by being released in the same year as the equally terrible Batman & Robin, making 1997 one of the worst years DC has ever experienced in terms of sheer quality.
They’ve since recovered from the embarrassment of that dark time, but lest we forget, Hollywood did all they could to try and make Shaq a star. Unsurprisingly, Shaq’s talents were and always have been in the realm of basketball. After playing a genie in the equally-panned Kazaam in 1996, the Lakers center made an ill-fated move into comic book lore.
Steel himself is a middle-tier hero who really shouldn’t have gotten a movie this early on in the genre’s history, and yet here we are. It managed to hit just 12% on Rotten Tomatoes, with most reviews seeming to agree that Shaq’s performance was the lowlight of the entire affair.
It’ll always be a pleasure watching highlights of the 7-foot-2 behemoth dunking the living bejeezus out of puny mortals on the court. Falling firmly in the “not a pleasure in the slightest” category though is “watching Shaq” act, coming in right ahead of “listening to Shaq rap.”
6. Ryan Reynolds, Green Lantern
Of all the bad performances and films on this list, it’s Ryan Reynolds in Green Lantern who doesn’t have the excuse of existing in a pre-MCU world. Before Iron Man, no one really knew what a superhero movie was supposed to look or feel like (unless your name was Christopher Nolan). Strategies ranged from Tim Burton’s attempts to be as insanely campy as possible to Joel Schumacher’s Bat-nipples.
But then along came Green Lantern, taking its own specially misguided approach to the genre in 2011. Reynolds himself has expressed a fair modicum of regret for having gone anywhere near DC’s Green Lantern adaptation. Again we had a case of the wrong actor in a poorly conceived role, with his wise-cracking everyman appeal not quite landing for a hero whose role is to be an intergalactic space-cop.
The happy ending here is that he eventually struck gold as Wade Wilson in Deadpool, a film perfectly suited for his unique abilities. Suffice it say, Green Lantern was not that movie for him, and even five years after the fact, it’s hard to completely purge it from our collective memories.
7. Halle Berry, Catwoman
Catwoman is a significant entry in the annuls of superhero cinema for a host of reasons. Technically, it was the first female-led comic book movie of the modern era (if we’re marking that era with X-Men in 2000). Because of this (and Elektra a year later), there was a whole lot riding on its success.
The fact that it was an unmitigated disaster both creatively and financially affected the future of the genre for years to come. It was held up as proof positive that women weren’t marketable as superhero leads, despite the fact that it being terrible had nothing to do with the gender of its hero.
That said, it was an odd choice for Berry, having just come off an Oscar win for Monster’s Ball in 2002. She went from being the premier transformative talent in Hollywood to a role that regressively set back women in superhero movies a full decade. Much like Tommy Lee Jones and Brandon Routh though, much of the blame can be laid at the feet of both poor writing and bad directing.
Still, there’s plenty to go around for a performance that was levels upon levels below an actress of Berry’s caliber. Thankfully, we’re finally beginning to recover from the hangover of Catwoman, with Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel on the docket for DC and Marvel respectively.
8. Keanu Reeves, Constantine
In the same vein as Jonah Hex, Constantine was a movie based on comic book material with miles of potential. John Constantine is traditionally a pansexual, chain-smoking Brit who specializes in battling the forces of Hell. He comes paired with a disenchanted and damaged psyche, making him one of the more complex characters in DC lore.
Simply put, Keanu Reeves was not the man to take on the considerable job of bringing that character to life on-screen and in theaters. He found his wheelhouse with John Wick in 2014: monotone, action-oriented performing where depth only gets in the way of entertainment value. Decidedly not in Reeves’ wheelhouse is John Constantine.
We can say that now in hindsight, having seen Matt Ryan deliver the quintessential performance of the character in a short-lived series on NBC. But for the case of the movie version, we got a project that was riddled with issues, many of which were summed up nicely in Newsweek’s review:
Great-looking gobbledygook, this feverish slice of supernatural Roman Catholic film noir sends demon buster Keanu Reeves–a chain-smoking psychic who can spot the half-breed demons and angels in our midst–on a mission to save the world, and his own soul, from Lucifer, who has broken his detente with God. Based on the “Hellblazer” graphic novels, this stylishly shot thriller is filled with all-that-money-can-buy special effects, but the razzle-dazzle grows wearisome. “Constantine” peaks early, then descends into portentous nonsense.
Slowed down by special effects and poor casting, we may never see the Hellblazer comics brought to life again following a bad movie and a canceled TV show. Part of that can definitely be attributed to a lack of interest from audiences. Also guilty though is Warner Bros. for casting Reeves in the first place.
9. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Batman Forever
The late ’90s were not a happy time for the Batman franchise. Incidentally, this is also right around the time that Joel Schumacher was given carte blanche to ruin the Dark Knight in whatever way he saw fit, and ruin him he did.
In that period, we got nipples on bat suits, poorly written dialogue, set designs that looked like they were drawn up in crayon by third graders, and poorly casted villains (as we saw with Jones as Two-Face). Arnold Schwarzenegger takes the cake though in terms of cheesy bad guys, marked by his performance as Mr. Freeze in Batman & Robin.
In the comics, Victor Fries is a villain with one of the more intriguing backstories among Batman’s Rogues Gallery. He starts out as a brilliant cryogenicist, using his work to freeze his wife, Nora, who had contracted a fatal disease. After an accidental explosion kills Nora and alters Fries’ biology, he becomes the villain we know today, Mr. Freeze.
His particular brand of evil is rooted in grief and suffering, but what we got instead in Batman & Robin is Arnold making a series of horrible ice-based puns over 90-plus minutes. Today, it’s one of the more parodied performances, considered by many as the shining example of what not to do when you land a major role in a superhero franchise.
DC has since locked things down in the villain department for Batman, giving us Heath Ledger’s Joker, Tom Hardy’s Bane, and soon, a whole cast of baddies in Suicide Squad. We’ll never forget the awful performance that had to happen to get us to that place, but damn, it is nice to be done with that unfortunate period in the Batman saga.
10. Val Kilmer, Batman Forever
Speaking of bad Batman movies made by Joel Schumacher, let’s return for a moment to Batman Forever. In a movie where Tommy Lee Jones was a bad fit for Two-Face, that still wasn’t the most questionable casting choice (and that’s in a movie where Jim Carrey paraded around in a green morphsuit, too).
Val Kilmer wins that title, as the Bruce Wayne who never should have been. Wayne’s character is meant to be broody, violent, and tortured — all qualities best expressed by actors of a certain caliber. The most recent actors to play Batman both pretty much nailed it. Affleck had the veiled rage of the character down pat, while Christian Bale is the most prolific method actor of our generation. And then there was Val Kilmer in Batman Forever, an actor most known for his role as Iceman in Top Gun.
Someone somewhere thought that he would be a fit for the role of DC’s most iconic hero not named Superman, inserting him into Joel Schumacher’s stink-pile of movie. The final tally for Batman Forever gave us Tommy Lee Jones dressed up as a strung-out birthday clown, Jim Carrey as the Riddler circa Adam West’s Batman, and blonde, square-jawed Val Kilmer trying to stretch his depth to the breaking point. Not everyone’s a good fit for the superhero genre as it turns out, and Kilmer most definitely fit into that category, even if DC has pretty much nailed their Batman-related casting in the ensuing years.
11. Jared Leto, Suicide Squad
Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight was always going to be a tough act to follow. And to Jared Leto’s credit, he fully committed himself to the role in Suicide Squad, albeit in a way that completely freaked out his fellow castmates. Now that the dust has settled though, it’s not hard to see that his performance wasn’t just bad compared to Ledger’s, it was just plain bad in any and every context. Mercifully, the Joker played a small role in the overall film, limiting his screentime to a handful of smaller scenes.
12. Tom Hardy, The Dark Knight Rises
This one is a tad more complicated than simply pointing toward a lackluster performance. To Tom Hardy’s credit, he acted his heart out as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. The problem was that his voice was so distorted by his face-mask, that we’re barely able to make out half of what’s he saying at any given time. Maybe it was Christopher Nolan’s choice and not Hardy’s to have him sport the odd “Bane voice,” but today it’s recognized as an odd decision to say the very least, often taking you out of the moment entirely.
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