There was a time when the most highly acclaimed actor you could get to star in a movie based on a Marvel comic was Dolph Lundgren*. But now, as both the budgets and the respectability of "comic book movies" have increased, it's become standard practice for Academy Award winners and nominees to appear in them.
Currently, four out of the 20 Oscar nominees in the acting categories will be in a Marvel Comics film in the next two years. Best Actress nominees Natalie Portman and Jennifer Lawrence will appear in "Thor" and "X-Men: First Class" respectively this summer. And Mark Ruffalo and Jeremy Renner, who are both up for Best Supporting Actor, will soon join "The Avengers" for a summer 2012 release. That doesn't even count Christian Bale, who will also soon be suiting up as DC Comics' Batman for a third time in "The Dark Knight Rises."
Take a look at Natalie Portman as the human love interest for the fallen Norse god in the exclusive new trailer for "Thor." Then keep reading to see why these award-worthy actors are choosing to take part in this new batch of big-screen adaptations.
Kenneth Branagh, who received nods for both starring in and directing 1990's "Henry V." She told SuperHeroHype that the incongruity of the esteemed Shakespearean director doing a comic book film is what first grabbed her attention: "I was just like, 'Kenneth Branagh doing 'Thor' is super-weird. I've gotta do it.'"So what drew Portman -- heavily favored to take home the gold for Best Actress -- to "Thor"? According to her, it was the opportunity to work with another Oscar nominated talent, director
Portman also said that she was able to help shape her character in the writing stage, making the role more appealing to her. She plays Jane Foster, a human astrophysicist who befriends Thor (played by Chris Hemsworth) after he is banished from the otherworldly realm called Asgard. She told the Los Angeles Times that the chance to play a woman who is a scientist was also a big draw for her. She said, "I know it sounds silly, but it is those little things that makes girls think it's possible. It doesn't give them a [role] model of 'Oh, I just have to dress cute in movies.'"
Portman is in good company in "Thor." It also stars Academy Award-winner Anthony Hopkins as Odin, the king of Asgard who exiles his son Thor to Earth. Adriana Barraza, a Best Supporting Actress nominee for "Babel" in 2006, also appears in the film.
Portman's fellow Best Actress nominee Jennifer Lawrence is also getting into the superhero business this summer with "X-Men: First Class," the prequel to the original trilogy. In some ways, the "X-Men" movies established the trend of acclaimed actors in comic book films, with noted English thespians Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen in the lead roles and Anna Paquin -- who was only 11 when she won the Oscar for "The Piano -- as the young mutant, Rogue.
Mark Ruffalo and Jeremy Renner might be competing against each other for the Best Supporting Actor award this month, but later this spring they'll be working together on "The Avengers." They'll be joining former Oscar nominees Robert Downey Jr. and Samuel L. Jackson (not to mention four-time Golden Globe nominee Scarlett Johansson) in the movie that brings together Marvel's core team of superheroes. Ruffalo will play the Hulk, and Renner plays the master marksman, Hawkeye.
Of course, it doesn't always work out when actors follow award-winning performances with comic book adaptations. Halle Berry won the Oscar after the first "X-Men," and followed it with two more successful installments. But when she tried to go solo with "Catwoman," it was a critical and financial disaster. After winning for co-writing "Good Will Hunting," Ben Affleck had a string of flops, including when he played Marvel's blind vigilante "Daredevil." Josh Brolin was nominated in 2007 for "Milk," but last year's "Jonah Hex," based on a little-known Western series from DC Comics, was a complete box-office bomb.
Still, with the Oscar-quality talent both in front of and behind the camera, prospects for the upcoming slate of comic book adaptations look much brighter. "Thor" opens on May 6 of this year, with "X-Men: First Class" following on June 3. "The Avengers" is scheduled to open May 4, 2012.
*To be fair to 1989's "The Punisher," it did feature Oscar-winner Louis Gossett Jr.
- Natalie Portman
- comic book movies