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The Most Over-The-Top Performances In Comic Book Movies

February 26, 2020 14.2k votes 1.8k voters 130.7k views17 items

List RulesVote up the biggest, loudest, most colorful performances in comic book movie history.

When heading to our local cinemas for the latest comic book adaptation, we love to see over-the-top performances from the cast. While the most over-acted parts are typically the villains, this is not always the case (we're looking at you, Venom's Tom Hardy and 300's Gerard Butler). Villain or hero, these actors are clearly having fun, and we should just sit back, relax, and do the same.

From the truly weird, like Spawn's John Leguizamo and Batman Returns' Danny DeVito, to the campy, like Spider-Man's Willem Dafoe and Catwoman's Sharon Stone, these comic book movie performances are the ones we don't want to forget. Whether the movie in question is a genre classic or a piece of true dreck, these scene-stealers are worth the price of admission alone.

  • Sam Raimi's original Spider-Man trilogy includes some of the most "comic-booky" movies ever put on film, with scenes taken directly from famous comics panels and performances that seem more appropriate for a kid's cartoon than a live-action picture. Look no further than the zany nature of Willem Dafoe's Norman "Green Goblin" Osborn in 2002's Spider-Man for proof of this: The guy just oozes smarmy villain every time he's on screen.

    For his part, Dafoe has said he absolutely loved bringing the famous Spidey villain to the big screen. During an interview with GQ, he delved into what it was like watching the final product. "There’s a couple of scenes that still make me laugh," Dafoe explained, "because they’re so double-edged, and they go back and forth between being really heavy and really kind of silly. And the movie is filled with that."

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  • Samuel L. Jackson In 'The Spirit'
    Photo: Lionsgate

    If 2005's Sin City was a comic book in celluloid form, then 2008's The Spirit is merely a comic book writer's fever dream come to life. Without Sin City co-director Robert Rodriguez on board to keep the ship afloat, first-time solo director Frank Miller was set adrift. A mish-mash of comic book visuals, it's all style with no vision or heft. But man, is Samuel L. Jackson having one hell of a good time as the Octopus.

    The only thing consistent about Jackson's character (outside of his creative eyeliner choices) is an inconsistent wardrobe. Seriously, the guy dresses as a WWII German officer, a samurai, and a doctor (among other, less easily described outfits) in the span of one film. During a 2009 interview with IndieLondon, Jackson talked about his and Miller's approach to the character. "I would just come in out of the blue with new eyebrows and stuff on my face," Jackson mentioned. "He’d watch the rehearsal and then try and put the camera in there. But it’s not often that you’re allowed to take licence and be as crazy as you want to be. He just told me to be as over the top as you need to be."

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  • Reviled by both critics and fans alike, 2004's Catwoman set back the female superhero subgenre for over a decade, something just now being reversed with releases like Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel. Amid listless acting, shoddy CGI, and baffling writing, one thing stands out: Sharon Stone's over-the-top performance as Laurel Hedare.

    An odd cross between an old-time film star and a mid-'90s soap opera antagonist, Stone's vampy, taunting villainess is something to behold in a film with little else going for it. Her attempt to feign hysteria at the sight of her deceased husband - only to sneer at Catwoman as she flees the police - is a hilarious sight. Stone was clearly having fun with what must have seemed like a ludicrous production. It's a shame none of the rest of the cast was as determined to have a good time.

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  • Before Heath Ledger put in a legendary, Academy Award-winning performance as the Joker in 2008's The Dark Knight, another famous actor gave a legendary performance as the Joker: Jack Nicholson in 1989's Batman. Ledger's Joker - while equally crazy - was going for a more psychologically grounded representation of the character, while Nicholson was just there to have a good time and cackle the night away. 

    Nicholson's performance blends the maddest elements of his roles in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and The Shining, and just dials it up to 11. Whether bopping to Prince's "Partyman" in an art museum, or doing an impromptu spoof of Jack Palance's wheezy delivery, Nicholson portrays the Joker as a guy who really seems to enjoy his insanity. It makes sense that the acclaimed actor would go to such lengths - after all, he's playing a guy who wants his face on the one dollar bill.

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