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Superhero Movie Actor Comparisons: Who Pulled Off Superman, Batman, Spiderman, and Hulk Best?

Since we’re on a string of superhero posts, let’s throw in “Building Better Superheroes: Who Pulled Off the Superhero Look Best?” from the folks at Direct2TV.com.

building-better-superheroes-infographic
While I agree that Henry Cavill looks more like a superhero than Christopher Reeve did 35 years ago, Reeve looks more like Superman. Indeed, he remains for me the iconic live action Superman. (Dean Cain, who played the role on the WB “Lois and Clark” series, is the gold standard for Clark Kent.)

Of course Christian Bale looks more like a superhero than Michael Keaton, who was always a ridiculous choice to play Batman. He had the acting chops to pull it off but not the physical presence. The solution was to turn a character whose origin story (in those pre-Dark Knight days) was that he trained himself into a superb fighting machine over a course of years in order to avenge his parents’ murder into essentially Iron Man without the repulsor rays. That is, it was the suit that made him a superhero. Aside from a few gadgets, the “real” Batman was a superhero and the suit simply added to the intimidating persona.

And, yes, a green Lou Ferrigno is more representative of the Hulk character as it existed than the CGI monstrosity of the current film incarnation. I haven’t read a Hulk comic in more than twenty years, though, so don’t know if the character is now a 15 foot monstrosity.

As for movie incarnation of Spiderman, Tobey Maguire is the better Peter Parker whereas Andrew Garfield is the better Spiderman.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Ben says:

    Interesting that they picked all of the newer guys except for the one that’s pure CGI. Just like in sports, it all comes down to how much more superior our strength and weight training programs are nowadays, compared to 20-30 years ago.

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  2. Dave Schuler says:

    I didn’t find any of the movie/TV portrayals above particularly good representations of the comic book characters they were derived from. On the other hand there have been two transitions to the big screen that have at least evocative of the comic books they came from: Captain America (IMO probably the best of them all, not as a movie but as a movie rendition of a comic book) and Ironman.

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  3. legion says:

    I’m probably one of the few people who really liked Keaton as Batman. Yes, his fighting was terrible, but it seemed no less ridiculous than the rest of the movie – in fact, “real” fighting would have seemed out-of-place in that one. Additionally, there was something Keaton brought to it that resonated more… look at his eyes in the picture – even as Batman there’s still some kind of sadness there. And speaking of the picture, there’s something about the look of Bale’s cowl, with the tiny mouth opening, that just looks wrong.

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  4. Rafer Janders says:

    The solution was to turn a character whose origin story (in those pre-Dark Knight days)

    Actually, Frank Miller’s original Dark Knight comic book came out in 1986.

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  5. Matt Bernius says:

    And, yes, a green Lou Ferrigno is more representative of the Hulk character as it existed than the CGI monstrosity of the current film incarnation. I haven’t read a Hulk comic in more than twenty years, though, so don’t know if the character is now a 15 foot monstrosity.

    Actually, from the beginning, the hulk was always significantly larger than Bruce Banner. See the cover from the first issue of the Hulk in 1962 –
    http://marvel.com/comics/issue/8906/incredible_hulk_1962_1

    According the Marvel Universe guide, here’s the physical stats:

    Height/Weight:
    Banner: 5 ft. 9 in. / 128 lbs
    Green Hulk: 7 ft. / 1,040 lbs
    Gray Hulk: 6 ft. 6 in. / 900 lbs

    So 15ft is a bit tall, but the Hulks definitely bigger than a human body builder (though Lou without a doubt rocked the character, met Mr Rogers, and is by all accounts a really nice guy).

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  6. James Joyner says:

    @Ben: Yes, that occurred to me as well.

    @Dave Schuler: That’s largely been my impression, although I think they’ve gotten better. The Christian Bale Batman approximates the late 1980s/early 1990s iteration of the character, the Tobey Maguire Spiderman does a pretty good job of capturing the teenage angst Lee and Ditko were going for, and the X-Men flicks are reasonably true to the characters as well. Part of the problem is how many times the origin stories have changed over the years. And Marvel, I’m given to understand, is basically running parallel universes of their characters now.

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  7. Matt Bernius says:

    @legion:

    And speaking of the picture, there’s something about the look of Bale’s cowl, with the tiny mouth opening, that just looks wrong.

    THANK YOU for pointing that out. Something about the Bale costumes has always thrown me and I couldn’t figure out what it was until now.

    On the major plus side, Bale could actually move his neck and look up without having to learn backwards. The Keaton/Burton Batman always emphasized the “knight” aspect of the character, playing up the Armored aspect.

    Also, I think the Reeves/Cavell comparison misses the fact that (a) body building/sculpting has radically changed a lot in 30 years and (b) the move towards movie costumes that really accentuate musculature. If Reeves had the new costume, he would have looked much more “super.”

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  8. @James Joyner:

    And Marvel, I’m given to understand, is basically running parallel universes of their characters now.

    Yes. The Garfield version of Spiderman appears to be based more on the Marvel Ultimate version of the character.

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  9. Matt Bernius says:

    @James Joyner:

    Part of the problem is how many times the origin stories have changed over the years.

    But they’re all more or less the same. And they’ve now been told so many times that they really don’t need to be revisited. Or if they are they should do it in the brilliant, one page way, that All Star Superman handled it (embracing the iconic nature).

    One of the things that The Avengers did was skip most of the origins. Granted, there were previous movies that told those origins. But just looking at the BO of those films versus Avengers, it’s pretty clear that a lot of people went into The Avengers without seeing Captain America or Thor.

    And Marvel, I’m given to understand, is basically running parallel universes of their characters now.

    Yup. There are now “three” film universes:
    - Marvel – The Avengers + Daredevil + Avengers related X-Men
    - Sony – Spider-man
    - Fox – X-Men and Fantastic Four (apparently the FF remake will take place in the same universe as the new X-Men films)

    And in comics there’s the main Universe and the Ultimate’s line, which really is now only the Ultimate Spider-man (a young black/hispanic man) who made Glenn Beck’s head asplode.

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  10. Matt Bernius says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    The Garfield version of Spiderman appears to be based more on the Marvel Ultimate version of the character.

    Rami’s Spiderman drew from Ultimate as well. In many respects, with the inclusion of (poor doomed) Captain and Gwen Stacey right from the beginning, the Garfield version is actually much closer to the original Stan Lee version.

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  11. Dave Schuler says:

    @James Joyner:

    Yeah, although once upon a time I was an avid comic book reader I stopped following them actively about fifty years ago. Amazing Fantasy #15 was one of the last comic books I ever bought.

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  12. James Joyner says:

    @Dave Schuler: Ha. I continued avidly collecting through my undergrad years but seldom found time to read the books once I went overseas as an Army officer in 1989. I continued to “collect” the books for a few years after that but all but stopped when the comic shop from which I’d been subscribing to new issues went out of business circa 1993 or 1994. I attempted to get back into the habit a couple of times later in the decade but never managed. I still have boxes and boxes of the books in my basement.

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  13. Socrates says:

    Sorry, but you’re full of it. The first Batman movie was easily the best. The best by a mile. Great sets too. Keaton was also the best Batman. Christian Bale sucks. And I can’t understand half of what he says (in ANY of his movies.) And the new Batmobile is ridiculous.

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  14. legion says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Yes. The Garfield version of Spiderman appears to be based more on the Marvel Ultimate version of the character.

    Spider-man’s newest and greatest arch-enemy: MONDAYS.

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  15. Matt Bernius says:

    Ok, Shut ‘er down! @legion just won the thread.

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  16. Anonne says:

    @James Joyner:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    And Marvel, I’m given to understand, is basically running parallel universes of their characters now.

    This is mostly out of necessity. The success of the original X-Men and Spider-Man movies is that it is close enough to reality so that you can suspend enough belief to enjoy it, but not too much to ruin it. The feel of the characters is right, even though the fine details are not – such as the composition of the group at the time of its origin, etc. For X-Men moreso than Spider-Man, the means and motives need to be grounded in something people can understand. So the details will almost always never be truly faithful.

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  17. Tyrell says:

    I really liked the Superman television series of the ’50′s. What was that guy’s name George Reeves?

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