My first thought for this post was to rank every significant character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe by how well that character was cast… then I actually counted how many characters that was (over 50). That’s too much, so instead I’ve broken it down into smaller groups of three or four.
Best Casting Decisions
These are the roles that couldn’t have been cast better. The studio either found the perfect actor for the role, or the actor exceeded even the highest expectations.
Robert Downey Jr. – Tony Stark
This is easily the best casting decision in the MCU. RDJ not only has the look of Stark, but the personality as well. His charisma, both on and off screen, has made him the face of the MCU. I get the sense that RDJ is getting ready to retire from the MCU, with Infinity War being his last movie in the franchise (unless he’s willing to do some cameos during phase 4).
Chris Pratt – Peter Quill
I’m of the opinion that Pratt will take over as the star of the MCU once Robert Downey Jr. finishes his contract. Pratt’s chemistry with his co-stars is fantastic, and he’s just as entertaining off-screen. It seems like Marvel will be moving more of its films off Earth, and Pratt’s the perfect man to take the lead in the new, expanded universe.
Tom Hiddleston – Loki
Hiddleston’s Loki is by far the best villain that Marvel’s brought to the MCU. He’s a great blend of charismatic and menacing. Hiddleston’s also made Loki so popular, that the character has been both a villain and a hero, and it worked. That’s tough to pull off. He’s signed on to do three more movies (presumably Ragnarok and the two Infinity War movies), and it will be fun to see what he brings.
Clark Gregg – Phil Coulson
He’s not the biggest name, or the most influential character, but Clark Gregg’s calm, quiet, and controlled Phil Coulsen has been around since the first movie for good reason. Not only did his role expand in every movie he was in, but he got a spin-off television show. That’s not bad for a character that easily could have been nameless in his first appearance.
Good Casting Decisions
These are the actors who did better than expected, but I could see others doing just as well. They fit the role and brought something to make the character their own.
Chris Evans – Steve Rogers
Evans managed to be one of the few bright spots in the Fantastic Four movies, but even then, I remember a lot of people being doubtful about him playing Captain America. Fortunately, he was given the opportunity, and he’s made the most of it. Physically, he’s a great fit, and his acting keeps getting better.
Chris Hemsworth – Thor
Chris Hemsworth definitely wasn’t a well known name when he was cast as the god of thunder, but he sure has become one. Physically, he matches his comic book counterpart about as perfectly as a human can get. The nice surprise was how well he did in bringing a great mix of humor and intensity to the role.
Gwenyth Paltrow – Pepper Potts
I wasn’t thrilled with the decision to cast Paltrow as a supporting character. I thought that she was too big of a name for too small of a part, especially in the sequels. I’m happy to say that I was wrong. Paltrow has a great chemistry with RDJ, and, just like her character, knows when to shine and when to blend into the background.
Paul Bettany – Jarvis/Vision
I’m really glad that Marvel didn’t bring in a different actor to play the Vision. Bettany’s voice work as Jarvis was always fun in the Iron Man movies, but I look forward to seeing him get more on-screen time. Bettany isn’t the most physically imposing actor, but he’s looked good as Vision, and his calm, measured voice was a great contrast to Spader’s more emotional Ultron.
Sebastian Stan – “Bucky” Barnes
If I had been aware that Sebastian Stan was best known for his work on a teen soap opera, I would have been really upset with his casting. Fortunately, I didn’t know about that background. Stan’s transition from the happy, brother-like Bucky, to the intense and dangerous Winter Soldier, and now to the damaged fugitive has been phenomenal.
Average Casting Decisions
These weren’t bad casting decisions, but they were safe. These actors were either brought in for name recognition or because it was an obvious choice, but they didn’t do anything special to make their character exceptional.
Samuel L. Jackson – Nick Fury
It would have been hard to justify casting anyone other than Jackson, since the Marvel Ultimate version of Fury was based off him, but he’s still just Sam Jackson. He plays the same character in almost every movie, and his Nick Fury is no different. His role in the MCU has been diminishing since The Winter Soldier, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him retired from the universe completely after the Infinity War.
Scarlett Johansson- Natasha Romanov
Johansson’s been good, occasionally great as the Black Widow, but there’s something missing. It’s always felt like Johansson was cast because she was well known, not because she fit the part. It’s a little picky, but I really wish that Marvel had cast a European for this role. I think the character would have been better served by finding someone with a bit of an accent.
James Spader – Ultron
I think I’m in the minority here, but I didn’t really like Spader as Ultron. He was a great choice to give Ultron a very expressive voice, but I find that voice to be too distinctive. Whenever Ultron spoke, I heard the actor instead of the character.
Bad Casting Decisions
Here are the parts that probably should have gone to someone else. Something with these actors just didn’t fit the character.
Ben Kingsley – Trevor Slattery
This probably has more to do with the character than the actor, but I’m not really a fan of either. There was a lot of buildup to having the Mandarin make an appearance, especially with Kingsley playing the part. Instead we got Slattery. It was at best a disappointment. The only upside I saw was his appearance in the one-shot “All Hail the King.”
Jon Favreau – Happy Hogan
Favreau’s cameo in the first Iron Man was fine, but by the second movie it seemed like he was trying to give himself more screen time than the character deserved. I can’t help but think that had a different actor played Happy, then the character would have been dropped.
Worst Casting Decisions
These actors never should have been cast in these roles. They were either blatantly overshadowed by their co-stars, or they failed to capture their character. It seems like almost anyone could have done a better job.
Natalie Portman – Jane Foster
I don’t know if it was the writing, her acting, or just their personalities, but I don’t think Portman and Hemsworth have any on-screen chemistry. There could be some other issues as well, since, as far as I can tell, Portman hasn’t signed on to reprise her role in either Ragnarok or the Infinity War movies. At this point, I’m convinced the movies would have been far better if Kat Dennings (Darcy in the Thor movies) and Portman had switched roles.
Terrence Howard – Col. James “Rhodey” Rhodes
Howard did a fine job as Rhodey in the first Iron Man movie, but the fact is, he dropped out and was replaced by Don Cheadle (and no one seemed to care). This isn’t meant as a slight against Howard, he’s a fine actor and played the role well, but being replaced in a series probably means that someone else should have been cast at the beginning.
Most of the cast of The Incredible Hulk
The acting in The Incredible Hulk is okay, but almost the entire cast has been replaced or dropped for subsequent movies. There’s no way to spin that as good casting. William Hurt seems to be the lone exception, since he reprised his role in Captain America: Civil War.