Performances in comic book movies that should have gotten awards love

Performances in comic book movies that should have gotten awards love

Comic book movies, a nebulous term to begin with, don’t always get the love from the award bodies. This is especially true of the Oscars (though that is changing). We’re not talking about the technical awards, rather, acting awards. One man has already won an Oscar for his acting in a comic book movie, and another may do it in 2019. But that’s just scratching the surface. We feel like more actors in comic book movies have deserved award love, and we don’t mean the Razzies. There will be no Halle Berry here.

 
1 of 16

Heath Ledger

Heath Ledger
Warner Bros.

Let’s start with an actor who actually got a win for his work. Many people consider “The Dark Knight” the best comic book movie ever, and it’s the one that made the Academy take these films seriously, if only to quiet critics. Ledger’s work as the Joker won the Australian a Best Supporting Actor award. Unfortunately he wasn’t around to accept it, as Ledger tragically died between filming the movie and the Oscars.

 
2 of 16

Joaquin Phoenix

Joaquin Phoenix
Warner Bros.

Ledger won a Supporting Actor award for playing the Joker, but Phoenix won Best Actor for playing the same character. Say what you will about “Joker,” and there is a lot to be said, but Phoenix is one of the best actors of his era and should arguably have multiple Oscars already. (Have you seen “The Master” or “Inherent Vice?”) Instead, he might get the win for this bleak, character study version of a comic book movie.

 
3 of 16

Robert Downey Jr.

Robert Downey Jr.
Paramount

Downey has played Iron Man, aka Tony Stark, so many times, you might have a different movie in mind for him. For example, he definitely could have plausibly gotten a nomination for “Avengers: Endgame.” However, we’re out here supporting his original turn in the movie that spawned the Marvel Cinematic Universe: “Iron Man.” Downey had to introduce a character and a world, and he did in a way that was in equal parts, funny, captivating, aggravating and dynamic.

 
4 of 16

Vincent D'Onofrio

Vincent D'Onofrio
Sony

Not all comic book movies are about superheroes, and while we tried to stay within a certain realm of comics, we aren’t limited to Marvel and DC’s offerings. Take, for example, “Men in Black.” That too was based on a comic. The film may center on Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith, but it’s D’Onofrio who makes the biggest acting impact. He had to embody the role of an alien stuffed into a human skin suit, and he does it with aplomb.

 
5 of 16

Chadwick Boseman

Chadwick Boseman
Disney

Boseman seemed destined to win an Oscar at some point, and while he still has a chance based on films like "Da 5 Bloods," tragically the opportunities are limited. The immensely-talented actor passed away from cancer in 2020 at the age of 43. He could have won for "Black Panther," but that did not come to fruition.

 
6 of 16

Michael Keaton

Michael Keaton
Disney

No, we aren’t talking about his work as Batman. That’s all well and good, but his work as the Caped Crusader isn’t exactly wowing. You know what movie he is great in, though? That would be “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” People were tired of Spider-Man reboots by the time it rolled around, but the film is still a rousing success, and Keaton’s turn as Vulture is a big reason why. He went from superhero to truly menacing villain.

 
7 of 16

Christian Bale

Christian Bale
Warner Bros.

OK, now we reward a guy for his work as Batman. Bale is a great actor with a ton of Oscar nominations already, not to mention a win for “The Fighter.” He is one of the guys who legitimized great actors taking on superhero roles. We’re partial to his work in “Batman Begins,” because he had to bring Bruce Wayne’s journey to becoming Batman to the screen.

 
8 of 16

Christopher Reeve

Christopher Reeve
Warner Bros.

We thought about including Gene Hackman for his role as Lex Luthor, but he didn’t quite make the cut. Reeve does, though, for “Superman.” Comic book movies simply weren’t a thing in the ‘70s, as the only ones that existed were comedic silliness like the ‘60s “Batman” movie (which is admittedly awesome, if not awards fodder) or old-timey serials. Reeve’s performance as Superman (and also Clark Kent) helped change that.

 
9 of 16

Jeff Goldblum

Jeff Goldblum
Disney

Look, are we basically just looking to give Goldblum love for being Goldblum? Maybe. Do the Oscars tend to diminish comedic performances? Absolutely, so maybe we should pretend that by “award worthy” we’re talking the Golden Globes here. Regardless, Goldblum is totally delightful in “Thor: Ragnarok.” Speaking of Oscar winners, let’s not forget that both Cate Blanchett and Anthony Hopkins are in this film as well.

 
10 of 16

Gal Gadot

Gal Gadot
Warner Bros.

Hey, look, a woman! It’s about time. People were almost entirely down on the DC movies until “Wonder Woman” came along. That’s because it was actually well made — thank you Patty Jenkins and had some committed performances as well. Gadot had a heavy load to shoulder, but she did it with gusto.

 
11 of 16

Hugh Jackman

Hugh Jackman
20th Century Fox

Until “Joker,” no comic book movie had felt more like your traditional “Oscar film” than “Logan.” It’s a revisionist Western involving mutants, with Jackman doing some legitimate dramatic acting. Logan, aka Wolverine, is ragged and tired, and you can see it in his face every moment of the film. We shouldn’t take it more seriously just because “Logan” does, but we have to note this is perhaps the best acting Jackman has done in any movie, full stop.

 
12 of 16

Patrick Stewart

Patrick Stewart
20th Century Fox

Here’s how good “Logan” is: It’s the one movie on this list that gets two actors acknowledged. Stewart’s chops were well known before “Logan,” even if so much of his career has been in genre fare. It doesn’t matter. Stewart has always risen above the material when necessary, but that wasn’t needed in “Logan.” It’s a dynamic performance that easily could have resulted in an Oscar nomination.

 
13 of 16

Natalie Portman

Natalie Portman
Warner Bros.

Obviously, we aren’t talking about her thankless work in the first two “Thor” movies. Her movie “V for Vendetta” is also based on a comic. It has issues as a movie, but Portman is asked to carry it. She’s acting primarily against a man in a Guy Fawkes mask. Also, let’s give her a little credit for having her head shaved for the film.

 
14 of 16

Michael Pena

Michael Pena
Disney

Again, Oscars don’t tend to favor comedic performances. Maybe we need to pretend this is a Golden Globes entry, though even they just put all the supporting actors into one big category, removing that “Music/Comedy” designation. All we know is that Pena is hilarious in “Ant-Man,” and if Marisa Tomei can win an Oscar for “My Cousin Vinny,” Pena could have least been nominated for “Ant-Man.”

 
15 of 16

Charlize Theron

Charlize Theron
Focus Features

We’re stretching things a bit. “Atomic Blonde” is based on a graphic novel called “The Coldest City," so it's a comic book movie in that way, but it doesn’t otherwise fall under the parameters of the other movies on this list. However, we wanted to include Theron for a couple of reasons. One, she’s excellent in a really good, overlooked Cold War action thriller. Two, we wanted to include another woman on the list, as comic book movies haven’t always been known for giving women worthwhile roles. Fingers crossed we don’t have this issue in future lists on the subject.

 
16 of 16

Jack Nicholson

Jack Nicholson
Warner Bros.

Let’s wrap up with the big-name actor who changed the game for comic book movies. Nicholson was an Oscar winner and maybe the biggest star in the world in 1989. And yet he signed on to play the Joker in “Batman," the movie that basically birthed the modern comic book film. Nicholson, seemingly having the time of his life, chews the scenery in a glorious way. But he didn’t just cash a big paycheck. Nicholson brings his acting chops to the movie, and we know those skills are worthy of an Oscar nomination.

Chris Morgan is a sports and pop culture writer and the author of the books The Comic Galaxy of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and The Ash Heap of History. You can follow him on Twitter @ChrisXMorgan.

More must-reads:

Customize Your Newsletter

+

Get the latest news and rumors, customized to your favorite sports and teams. Emailed daily. Always free!

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.